Ashley Cowan’s story is also more than just about an athletic feat. When she was just 18 months old, her limbs were amputated below the elbows and knees after she survived a near-fatal bout of meningitis. Her condition was initially diagnosed as a fever, but her mother, Shurlene, sought a second, and then a third opinion. Cowan was sent by ambulance to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and, on the way, her heart stopped for 15 minutes. By the time she was resuscitated by paramedics, gangrene had set into her limbs.
Her disability has not stopped her. Cowan competed as a figure skater until, at age 8, she watched news coverage of distance swimmer Vicki Keith crossing the Great Lakes. “I told my mother, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Cowan says. “But I told her I’d prove her wrong.” It was a bold prediction, given that Cowan couldn’t even float at the time. “When she came to me, she couldn’t swim half the length of the pool,” says Keith, who has been her coach since 1994. “And yet there she was, saying she wanted to swim across the lake.” By December, 2000, Keith “saw something in her that told me she could do it.” And Cowan did, dipping into Lake Erie at Sturgeon Point, N.Y., on Sept. 7. With Keith paddling beside her in a kayak, Cowan emerged 20 km to the north at Crystal Beach, Ont., after battling currents and choppy water for 14 hours and 20 minutes.
The story doesn’t end there. Cowan launched her swim in an effort to raise money for Variety Village, a fitness facility designed for the disabled. Initially, her story didn’t get widespread attention. And money has been slow to filter in — only about $2,000 so far. But that total should grow. Last week’s Spirit of Sport award will help raise awareness of her efforts, as will subsequent interviews on several U.S. TV shows, including Larry King Live.
Though unused to the spotlight, Cowan showed great composure when she won — even if she didn’t feel it. “I wasn’t calm at all,” she insists. “I was shaking when I got on stage, and I made the mistake of looking at my mom. She was bawling her eyes out.” Still, Cowan kept it together, and that talent, combined with her growing fame, may help her in her long-range ambition. “I love music,” says the Grade 10 student, “and I want to be a singer.” Don’t bet against her.
To wit, to woo
At least we’re laughing at ourselves. The second annual April Fool’s Day poll conducted by The Comedy Network/Ipsos-Reid, found that 26 per cent of Canadians think Canada is the funniest country in the world, well ahead of Australia (15 per cent) and the U.S. (14 per cent). The majority of Canadians (71 per cent) also feel that our humour is more sophisticated than that of our neighbours to the south. Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are most likely to make us howl, while Canadians feel that Prince Edward Islanders suffer the most from a lack of a funny bone. Eight out of 10 people polled think a sense of humour is more important than looks — but half would still prefer to be attractive rather than funny. As well, two-thirds of Canadians think men are funnier than women. Now that’s hysterical.
A journey of laughter and rhythm
In order to dance professionally, Una Holbrook knew she had to leave Prince Edward Island. “If you are in the arts and want to grow, you have to travel,” says the Charlottetown native. So in pursuit of her dream, Holbrook studied in Jerusalem, Paris, Vienna, New York City and then found herself in Tel Aviv. It was there, while struggling with a busy schedule as a choreographer and dance teacher, that Holbrook discovered Mayumana — a show that combines music, dance and performance art. The creators of the troupe were looking for people to work with and Holbrook heard about the auditions. “I didn’t really have the time,” she reflects. “But I went out of curiosity and fell in love.”
Five years later, Holbrook, 31, is returning to Canada, this time with Mayumana (pronounced my-YOU-ma-na) in tow for their first North American performance, beginning in Toronto on April 2. To date, the 10- member cast has performed over 1,000 shows in Europe, South America and Asia. Using a combination of rhythm, acrobatics, music and, perhaps most important, humour, Mayumana is a “journey,” says Holbrook, who also trains in yoga, hip hop and rock climbing. “We feel that we have a joy of life, and to make someone smile doing something that you love is amazing.”
No news is good news, right?
Canadarm2 is on the fritz again. Last spring, a loopy computer chip in the limb’s shoulder forced MD Robotics in Brampton, Ont., to bypass the malfunction with new software. This time things are more serious — but you wouldn’t know it by talking to the Canadian Space Agency or NASA. Neither body issued a press release about the glitch, despite their habit of feeding reporters a steady diet of status reports of the all- systems-go sort. As it turns out, Canada’s $1.4-billion microgravity grappler, dangling from the International Space Station, now has troubles (possibly a short circuit in a wrist) severe enough that astronauts will be forced to replace the joint during a spacewalk in June. A CSA spokeswoman insisted no written advisory was dispatched because “this type of situation is part of the normal course of space activities.”
The CSA says malfunctions are inevitable, and that, in any case, the arm still works. The problem is in the primary controls system, but the backup remains functional. Bottom line, however: the wrist must go. The next shuttle to the station is to launch as planned this week, but NASA postponed the following one by almost a month (to May 31) to give astronauts time to practise replacing the joint. The delay means the station’s three-man crew — due to return to Earth aboard that flight – – will now be stranded for 26 extra days. “We didn’t think it was particularly newsworthy,” said the CSA spokeswoman. Right. Can you say, Brampton, we have a problem? Danylo Hawaleshka