When Ges (“Jess”) Bushe is still, he looks like any handsome 19-year-old. But he is rarely still. Some of that is his choice, but most of it isn’t. He was born with challenges that make each of his mastered motor movements something he has had to practice thousands of times: things most of us take for granted. Doing up a zipper, reaching for a glass, jumping, and certainly riding a bike. Despite his dogged persistence and never-give-up attitude, there are many things he will never do. Speak intelligibly. Have strong muscles, good posture, a typical walking gait.
His physical disability has a movement disorder, choreathetosis, which causes involuntary twitching and writhing. Add to this, a sister condition called ataxia, which causes great difficulty in controlling or coordinating his voluntary movements, such as walking or picking up objects, and of course doing any sort of physical activity like sports. His diagnosis would make most of us give up. But he’s never known anything else. And thanks to his willingness to try and to practice, he’s had a lot of success.
He has tried almost everything. Soccer, swimming, baseball, karate, yoga, trampoline, ringette hockey, skating, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, running, and bike riding. As a little guy, he had a tricycle that he could pedal but not steer. As he grew, he inherited his older sibling’s two -wheeler with training wheels. He never got much further than our driveway: it was too much to stay on the bike, pedal, steer and look where he was going all at the same time. But he always had a big grin on his face and was happy to try.
When he was 8 or 9, and getting too big for his parents to help, we discovered he could stay on the back of a tandem bike and pedal if his dad was up front often doing most of the work on the hills. He loved it!
Most of the sports he tried didn’t “stick”, but Ges has shown his high school track and field and cross-country coaches that he has the heart and attitude of a champion. Knowing that running was about the only non-try-out based high school sport, he showed up for all the practices and did his best. In the fall of his grade 8 year (2015), for the first time in BC, high school sport held a para athlete division for cross country provincials. On a horrible, rain-coming-sideways November day that made the Jericho running course more like a muddy, slippery military training exercise, Ges came home with a silver medal for his school.
That performance inspired the BC High School Track and Field Association to create the first para athlete divisions at provincial competition in the spring where he earned bronze in his sprint event.
Ges has medaled most years in provincial competition and has a clutch of silver and bronze medals to show for his efforts. But what matters more to him is the feeling he gets running with his peers and just being there, doing his best like everyone else. That he gets cheered for his efforts is icing on the proverbial cake.
Doing the 12 Day GranFondo Challenge is another extension of that. It gives him the opportunity to show up and “Ges Do It”, just like everyone else.
Ges is looking forward to his final year of high school sport. Whether or not he can compete in COVID times, he is proud and excited to be part of the West Vancouver Secondary Highlanders cross country and track and field teams. He also trains and competes with the West Vancouver Track and Field Club’s middle- and long-distance division (previously the Hershey Harriers). Also under the “Ges Do It” banner, he has run several SunRun 10km, several WestVanRun and NorthVanRun 5 and 10km, Seek the Peak (competitors run from sea level at Ambleside Beach up to the peak of Grouse Mountain), and Terry Fox runs. With a hiking partner, he regularly hikes the Grouse Grind and does other north shore hikes. With me, he operates a small homemade dog cookie business to support the SPCA, and is a proud produce staff member at Thrifty’s grocery store in Edgemont Village in North Vancouver.
When Ges was 15, he was diagnosed with FOXG1 syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and physical and intellectual disabilities.
Ges is not defined by his diagnosis; he is defined by his attitude and his effort. I have been so humbled by the impact I have seem him have on others. It doesn’t matter so much what you do or achieve in life, it matters who you are. I am a different and better person because of the things he shows me.
Knowing that motor and brain development are integrally linked in young children, I became immersed in finding ways to help Ges learn and master motor skills. Ges learned to pedal as a toddler when part of his “play” (therapy) was to lie on his back while I moved his legs in a pedaling motion so his brain could start to absorb the motor pattern. Once on a tricycle, he was able to pedal short distances on a flat terrain. When he graduated to the tandem bike I was so worried. Was he going to move his feet? Would his feet get tangled in the spokes or the chain? Could he balance during turns? Would he stay hanging on to the handle bars or might he get scared and try to let go? But it was like that with most things in his life.
As his mom, I knew he needed to try and I needed to let him. But what if??? What if he fell? What if he hurt himself? All moms worry about those things, but Ges seemed so vulnerable and I saw it as my job to think about every possible thing that could go wrong ahead of time, so it could be practiced, taught and planned for.
I will always remember walking the rental bike to a section of the Vancouver seawall and jogging behind Ges and my husband. That went okay, so we graduated to me standing there watching them pass so I could see Ges and coach him in what to do with his feet. Then finally we could head off with me behind them on my bike “offering” verbal reminders of keeping hands on the handlebars, moving his feet….
But following behind him, I would also hear him giggling. I could imagine his pleasure at feeling the wind on his face, the feeling of him moving his body quickly through space; all of these new and wonderful sensations. His laughter took me back to my childhood memories of the freedom of being on my bike and having those same feelings. Now a city bike ride on a tandem bike is a relaxed, fun time for us being active as a family.
“Ges Do It” is not a team name we came up with. I guess it started when Ges was in elementary school and he couldn’t keep up with the playground games once they evolved from hide n’ seek to soccer and football. His isolation caused me to ask the school if we could organize a recess and lunchtime playgroup. We needed 6 or 8 kids to make it work. Two thirds, or about 40 kids in his grade volunteered to be a part of what they named “Club G”. They went on to do all kinds of things together and were nationally recognized for the quality of inclusion they created. Not that they cared at all about that!
Ges’ efforts in the running community have had a ripple effect across the north shore, perhaps in the province. Early in his career, finishing dead last in the age-appropriate races for able-bodied high school athletes, onlookers could see how hard the kid from West Van was working to cross that finish line. And he was doing it while smiling and laughing! Soon coaches, spectators and athletes from other schools, were cheering Ges on and kids were volunteering to be his guide during the long cross-country races where he would end up on his own in a strange forest and ran the risk of getting lost. Ges became “their” athlete too, and a mom from a North Vancouver school (and parent to one of Ges’s “Club G” friends) gave Ges’s team that name and captained his first SunRun race. In 2019, citing low turn-out, the BC High School Track and Field Association cancelled para athlete events at provincial-level competition. The reaction from the north shore was quick and decisive.
Ges is hoping that para athlete track and field events will be back “on” in 2021.
It’s not about recognition. What humbles me is the compassion that Ges brings out in people. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if more of us could let the Geses of the world into our hearts. It’s a unique inspiration that for me is truly life-changing.
We have a family tradition of renting a tandem bike and riding the sea wall and part of Vancouver city sometime during the summer. We’ve been doing this for a dozen years, and it often seems to fall on the Labour Day weekend. When we heard about the 12 Day Challenge, I immediately thought of that. I also thought about COVID and how challenging it’s been for us, and I’m sure many others, to stay engaged, active and purposeful over these months. For folks on the margin, like Ges, it’s that much tougher.
But the way the 12 Day Challenge was structured with the focus on participation, the flexibility in type of bike, and the goal of distance over speed made it seem like something Ges could do. And something we could do with him.
He was keen right from the start. He also has quite a bit of experience doing fundraising for different things that are important to him, so riding for a bigger purpose also meant something to him.
Ges is primarily riding on a second-hand, 10-year-old “PT Fitness” stationary bike in our basement. He is used to it; this bike has been part of his home therapy program since he was in grade 3. One school of thought believes the brain learns better while the body is in motion. Back then, we wanted to see if Ges could absorb some school lessons better while riding. Then it was reincarnated as a way to multitask (although he didn’t know it) while he watched something he wanted (screen time), he was pedalling away. Then in high school, it became part of his “off day” training for his running program, and during COVID, it has played a regular role in keeping Ges fit, and track or Grouse Grind-ready.
Ironically, for someone who has extremely poor balance, he loves bike riding. When not on the stationary bike, during the 12 Day Challenge, we have rented a large tandem Fiori “avventura” bike for a day through Cycle City Tours and Rentals in Vancouver. He is literally counting the days until we go. He asks about it several times every day. His dad and he will ride the tandem through the city, and I will tag along on my almost-antique Giant “Innova”. 😊 Right now we plan to rent twice. Toward the end of the Challenge we will be in Whistler and had planned to rent and ride a tandem there. Sadly, in COVID times, I spent an hour on the phone yesterday learning there are no tandem rentals in Whistler or Squamish. I am worried our accommodation won’t have its gym open, and if there isn’t a stationary bike there, I don’t have a Plan B (yet).
Right now Ges’s dad rides on his own on his Norco “Storm7”. While Ges is working on the stationary bike, he listens to my barre or HIT workout on the TV and watches his mom squat, jump, curl and burpee her way through her workouts. To get my ride in, I have taken to combining grocery shopping with cycling in my ‘hood. Not an easy feat for someone living on the slopes of Grouse Mountain. Downhill is fine: quite exhilarating, actually! But to get back home, which is 100% uphill, well, for a newbie bike rider the elevation change from shopping to home is daunting. Day one I made it one block up the worst part of the hill. Day two I chose an admittedly less-direct uphill route, but I am proud to say I made it the whole way up with no stopping!
We all opted for the 55km distance for the challenge to help ensure a feeling of success and accomplishment, but my bet is that Ges will exceed that. I would be pleased if I did, but I will feel satisfied with finishing. I have noticed my husband and I are already trading daily “have you got your ride in yet?” “how far did you go?” kinds of encouragements.
As told by Ges’s mother, Carmen Farrell.
We’re encouraging you to join team Ges Do It now
With all entry proceeds going directly to the Food Bank, sign up for the 12 Day Challenge here and ride in spirit with Ges between Sept 1 – 12, 2020.
Over $38,000 has now been raised through your incredible efforts.
You can also join Ges’s official team to show your support – join team Ges Do It.