Healthy Living in the North

Lisa Davison: Community Health Star

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across Northern BC who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. One such person is Lisa Davison, a trail blazer in Prince George for the sport of badminton! Here’s her story.

Lisa tosses a birdie in a gymnasium as a group of young students watches.

Coach Lisa working with students.

Congratulations! You were nominated to be a Community Health Star by Vanessa Carlson! What’s your connection with Vanessa?

Vanessa is a past player in PG’s annual event, and now a friend, who lived in Watson Lake! For about six or seven years, her father would have her and her brother, Jason, come down to our camps and tournaments. I was in contact with the Carlsons on and off during those years, and eventually her father asked me to lead a camp in the Yukon to help them prep for the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games. They flew me up and we held a camp for a week, it was really special.

After that, I saw her and the Yukon team in Kamloops, where I was actually the manager for the BC team. It was pretty funny to see their team (one I had just trained and gotten close with) play, as I managed the BC team. The camaraderie was really great.

Why do you think Vanessa nominated you? What does it feel like to get that sort of recognition from a peer?

It feels amazing to be nominated, especially by Vanessa because she and her family are such amazing people – they’re a really neat bunch.

We keep in touch on Facebook but honestly, this is sort of out of the blue! Vanessa has always been very appreciative of me trying to grow the sport, [telling me], “You’re such an amazing supporter of badminton, way to go!” I’ve always enjoyed hearing that, because I know she’s being sincere, and it’s gratifying to be recognized for something that I’ve put a lot of time and effort into. She was one of the first people to connect with me after I broke the news that I had decided to hang up my high school coaching hat after 16 years, and she was one of the first to congratulate me on winning the Sport BC Community Sport Hero Award.

When you do a lot of volunteer work, you do it for the love of the sport, the kids, and to grow the game. And then, when you feel like “Ahh, I’m going to turn it in…” something amazing happens. A kid sees the light at the end of the tunnel, or you get a Vanessa that says, “Good job!” It keeps sparking you.

On a podium, several people high-five, while two young women hold a plaque.

Lisa and others celebrate a victory.

How did you get into badminton?

Well, that’s a funny story… I was in grade 9 at Kelly Road Secondary School in Prince George, and in the fall my friends kept disappearing after classes. When I asked them what they were up to, they told me that they were playing badminton, and that there was a tournament coming up at the end of the month and, “You should come play.”

I actually had never played badminton before – not even in the backyard! I wound up playing in the tournament and absolutely loved it. So from grade 10 and on, that was it. I was all in on badminton.

What made you want to coach and where did you start?

I was working at Prince George Secondary School in 1993, and I got a phone call from a parent [of a student] who lived in Fort St. John. She mentioned that she’d heard I might be interested in coaching badminton. At that point, I had helped out in some P.E. classes, had some drop-in after school practices here and there, so somewhere someone had made the connection between me and badminton, but I had never coached anyone. I informed the caller that I had no coaching certificates, but I’d give it a try. I had some skills that I could pass on, but I recognized that there was a lot more I had to learn from a coaching perspective.

That student was the start of my coaching life, and I knew that to help him more, I had to learn more. I took communication courses at the college, gradually started setting up classes, and my coaching career grew from there!

How did you start the North Central Badminton Academy in Prince George?

Some years into coaching high school, I started to notice that players quit after they graduated, because there was nowhere to continue competing. In 2000, I started coaching at Heather Park Middle School and some of the grade 8s were able to participate in the high school season at Kelly Road. It was noticeable that many kids were disappointed there was no badminton after the high school season. They had nowhere to practice or continue competing.

I had no idea what to do or how to do it, so I called Badminton BC, and told them that I wanted to start something. After that call, I began to organize visits from high level coaches that lived elsewhere, put on tournaments, and train groups of students. The North Central Badminton Academy was born and I have been happy to see it grow ever since.

Vanessa mentioned that you’ve developed a program that caters to all members of the community, regardless of experience/fitness levels and age. Tell us about that.

There are so many facets to badminton, and it plays into how someone can organize players and create a program that everyone has a place in. There’s the hand-eye component, the physical component, the game sense, and, of course, their age!

I found I had to create beginner programs, intermediate programs, high performance or development squad programs, but also programs for girls and ladies only, and para-athletes. I really enjoy the long term athlete development, and when you have each of these programs running, you get to see players grow, which is awesome.

Any plans for the immediate future?

I would love to take a group to Denmark. There’s amazing badminton over there, and it would be my total coup de grace as I slow things down!

Prince George is also hosting the 2020 Canadian Masters Badminton Championship, which will be great for the sport in Northern BC. I’m not very good at staying stagnant, there’s always pieces in motion! 

Congratulations Lisa!

Thank you Lisa! For all the countless hours of volunteering, and the energy you’ve put into growing the sport of badminton, Northern Health recognizes your efforts and commends you for getting the north moving with the sport of badminton. You truly are a Community Health Star!

To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health Community Health Stars page today!

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Smokeless summers start with us

Robbie Pozer (left) and TJ Sweetnam (right) with their forest firefighting gear on.

Two young men, arms over each other’s shoulders, are facing the camera and are dressed in forest fighting gear, including backpacks, pouches on their chests, helmets, and gloves.

I can still hear it. The sharp, piercing noise of the air horn that signaled a fire call from the Fire Centre, closely chased by the “wok wok wok” sound of our helicopter winding up. The memory brings back the emotions that always followed those sounds: initial excitement, slight anxiety, and the “I hope this isn’t the one that burns down the province” thought.

Such is the life of an Initial Attack Crew Leader with BC Wildfire Services, which I was from 2013-2015.

Wildfires are part of our ecosystem’s cycle. Truthfully, getting to see the full-circle effect of a wildfire is pretty cool – it was one of the more rewarding parts of the job for me. The green that comes through the burn after the fire has been out for a while is pretty spectacular. In no time, the buzz of insects returns and all sorts of creatures start stirring, preparing to make the area home again.

But, despite how positive all of this sounds, there are good fires and there are bad fires. And sadly, it’s only a 60:40 ratio.

A good fire (60%)

In a good fire, the weather has dried out the ground fuels (leaves, grass, downed branches) and lightning storms have come through, smacking a few trees around, sparking them up, and starting the natural renewal cycle. There’s also the elusive fire where a beaver chews through a poplar too quickly, lighting the deciduous tree up through raw friction. The beaver – an impressive and underrated species, in my opinion!

Whatever the cause, responders fly out, make a decision on whether or not the fire is safe to action, and then decide on the steps and resources needed to contain the fire effectively. They put the wet stuff on the hot stuff, direct the fire into a zone where it will burn itself out, and consider hundreds of other options and actions to end the fire and smoke.

A small forest fire burns in northeast BC.

A large fire, although small by forest-fire standards, is surrounded by trees.

A bad fire (40%)

Here’s an example of a bad fire situation:

A group of campers decide that they are exempt from the campfire ban, and are going to enjoy the weekend in whatever way they please. They make a campfire that doesn’t follow BC’s campfire regulations, they light off fireworks into the dry forest, and they take their squad of ATVs, equipped with piping hot exhausts, into the tall grass.

The emergency response? The exact same as a good fire, but with a few kicks.

These fires typically start in protected areas or close to structures, putting our parks and communities in danger. This means the crews have to issue fines, protect structures, or worse: knock on doors to let people know that they need to evacuate their homes for safety.

What you can do?

It’s our job to minimize our footprint on the forests each fire season. Instead of looking back on the summer, wishing that we had fewer smoky days, let’s be productive!

  • Check the current campfire restrictions for the area you’ll be in.
  • Completely extinguish your campfire before you go to sleep or leave your fire for any period of time.
  • Do not discard smoking materials from vehicles.
  • If you see a fire, report it! Dial 1-800-663-5555 or *5555.

Check out more tips at the Government of BC’s Wildfire Prevention page.

If you do find yourself in smoky skies this summer, it’s best to limit your exposure and try not to exert yourself – it can be hard on your health. Check out Paula’s blog, Breathe easier during smoky skies, for ideas on what to do if wildfire smoke causes poor air quality.

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Valemount knows granting season

Kids and adults on x-country skis.

X-country skiing gives the winter some much needed outside boost!

As you’re probably aware, it’s the spring IMAGINE granting season, and applications are coming in from all over Northern BC. Through our social media promotions of the program, I was lucky enough to connect with Rita Rewerts of the Canoe Valley Community Association (CVCA) in Valemount BC. During her tenure with the CVCA, Rita has applied and been selected for two IMAGINE Community Grants. What a pro!

We chatted about her background, the mountains in the area, how rad Valemount is… oh and how the grants have affected Valemount’s community. Here’s what she had to say!

How long have you been in Valemount and what’s your involvement in the Canoe Valley Community Association?

I moved to Valemount from Vancouver Island (Nanaimo) 25 years ago! I’m now happily retired from my job as a homecare nurse. Currently, I’m the vice president for the Association, and one of my main roles is to act as a liaison between the board and employees for programming. It’s awesome – how can you not love doing things for the kids!?

Cooking equipment on a table in a kitchen.

IMAGINE the creations this cooking equipment will whip up!

What did the IMAGINE grants help with and how were they successful?

We’ve applied for two grants and started two great programs: x-country skiing and a cooking program. I think both of the programs have been very successful, and our community has benefited too!

For our skiing program, we partnered with Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association (YORA) to help instruct participants on how to ski. The IMAGINE grant helped us purchase the skis and gear, but wow, is it ever expensive to buy skis for growing kids! So, we opted to buy a wide range of sizes, from youth to adult. Now as a lasting bonus, we’re able to offer skis and gear to the community during the winter for a small fee. It’s been great, and hugely beneficial for the community. Kids, adults and whole families love to get out and ski. Skiing for everybody!

For the cooking program, the grant helped us go from small to big. The idea was to partner with the high school to teach cooking from scratch, but it became too successful for the space we were using. So we moved to the Lions Club, where the IMAGINE grant helped buy cooking equipment like mixers, pans, and utensils.

It’s been very rewarding to see this idea take flight. The kids love cooking. Right from six years old, they take on Food Safe, learn about canning, baking cakes, cookies, whole meals – you name it. Our next project to enhance the program is to build a permaculture garden to grow our own ingredients!

Is there another IMAGINE grant application in your future?

Yes, there sure is! I’m in the process for writing another grant for this cycle. We really believe that programming should be based on what community interests are, and you have to be in constant contact with the community to find out what they want. So for this cycle, we polled kids for ideas through the school! There seems to be a real hunger to learn how to draw and paint. So we will be looking into artsy things: art classes, easels, paints, broad spectrum things. Should be exciting!

Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking about applying for a grant?

Don’t be afraid! If you have the passion and a good idea, just go for it. Northern Health has been really helpful through all of the granting process, so you don’t really have much to worry about! What’s the worst that can happen? Your idea might be the next best thing for the whole community, which is so positive. Just do it!

Apply today!

Grant applications are being accepted March 1 through to March 31. Check out the application guide and form and get started! If you’re looking for tips on applying, check out our handy blog, IMAGINE Community Grants: Key factors for success in community!

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Rikki Furmanek

“We also are able to accommodate surrounding areas such as Fort Nelson, Chetwynd, Taylor – people don’t have to travel very far, especially in the wintertime, so that’s great.”

In this video, Rikki Furmanek, Northern Health X-ray Technician, mentions the benefits that a new MRI machine brings to her hometown, Fort St. John, and what it does for the Northeast!

You can also see how the MRI machine was installed, which includes a big lift through a window at the hospital.

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Your flu shot: be strong like Tom

Thomas showing his muscles.
Be strong like Thomas: get your flu shot.

Did you know, this year’s flu shot is working better than past years? Official estimates have the flu shot hovering around 70% effectiveness, far better than recent years.

So, what’s your hesitation? Not enough time? Hate getting a needle? Not sure where to get one? If you’ve used any of these an excuse to avoid the flu shot, I’d like to introduce you to Thomas.

Thomas is 7, he has a dog named Kodiak, he does judo, and he wants to ­be an electrician when he gets a little older.

Besides being a pretty cool kid, Thomas knows the flu shot is the best way to protect himself from the flu. What he didn’t know, but he learned this year, is that it also helps protect everybody else! Kids like him, babies, the elderly, and those with vulnerable immune systems are all impacted by him getting the shot!

Thomas and a local news crew.
“Just my arm was a little bit sore but that was ok because I got to be on the news.”

Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

“I was a little nervous because I was afraid it would hurt a lot. But it didn’t hurt until after, and just my arm was a little bit sore but that was okay because I got to be on the news.”

Thomas is one tough kid!

Looking to be like Tom and get the shot? Find a flu clinic in no time on the Immunize BC website.

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Shyr Chui and Danita Braun

“Fifteen minutes later I got a call from the MRI booking office, and they told me they wanted me in the next day in the evening… and I was dumbfounded, because I was expecting it to be a 6 week wait for this appointment!”

In this video, we hear from patient Danita Braun, who was thrilled to hear the wait time of her MRI appointment was drastically cut down. Getting the MRI done sooner also meant a change in her care plan which she was thrilled to hear!

Also featured, Shyr Chui, Northern Health Radiologist, mentions how scanning hours have also changed, adding evening times and weekends!

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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IMAGINE (granting) that

It’s that time of year again, and we’re very excited! The month of March means an opportunity for anyone to take a healthy community idea and work towards making it a reality! That’s right, the spring IMAGINE Community Grants cycle has begun.

I started working at Northern Health a couple years ago, and one of my favourite things to watch has been IMAGINE Grants coming to life. There’s been so many awesome ideas put into communities, here are some of my favourites!

Youth skateboarders posing with their helmets on.

If You’re Gonna Play… Protect the Brain
The Prince Rupert RCMP worked on their goal to get at least 75% of bikers and skateboarders wearing helmets.

Children posing with signs that spell out Thank You for Supporting the Ark.

Get Outside Families
The Treehouse Housing Association taught children to help prepare healthy, on-the-go snacks to share with their parents while they explored Telkwa’s forests as families!

A view from the back of a dragon boat canoe, with paddles in the air.

Dragon Boating for All
The Quesnel Canoe Club offered community groups the chance to experience the sport of dragon boating. The project promoted safe, healthy, active living and aims to encourage more people to join the sport of paddling.

Young students in the classroom holding up books about dog education.

Dog Bite Safety Prevention
2022 students in 13 communities engaged in discussion around injury prevention through safe and positive interactions with dogs and learned how to be a responsible dog guardian. Tools and resources were provided to all participants to take home to share with their families.

You can view many more IMAGINE Grants on our IMAGINE map!

Apply Today!

You might be thinking, what do all of these grants have in common? Well, they’re healthy, good for the community, and honestly, not much else – but that’s the beauty of it! From community gardens, to skate parks, to healthy meal classes, to roller dance lessons… The canvas is blank and the colourful paints are available! No ideas are bad ideas, you just have to apply.

Grant applications are being accepted March 1 through to March 31. Check out the application guide and form and get started! If you’re looking for tips on applying, check out our handy blog, IMAGINE Community Grants: Key factors for success in community!

Good luck!

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Marina Downs and Margaret Kostyshyn

“This has increased patient happiness, and the morale of our technologists.”

In this video, Marina Downs, Northern Health Diagnostic Imaging Manager, speaks on how the addition of the MRI machine in Terrace has reduced patient wait times and travel, directly affecting the experience of both staff and patients.

Margeret Kostyshyn, a recent UHNBC patient, mentions how her MRI experience was “very positive,” and how the reassuring staff took away her initial fears of the process.

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Ken Winnig and Karen Eldridge

“About a year ago, we were only able to do about 7,500 MRIs. Today, we’re on target to do over 13,000.”

There’s some pretty exciting MRI news circulating throughout the North! Since the installation of the two new machines in Terrace and Fort St. John, and a new replacement unit in Prince George, the northern region has seen some pretty incredible results.

In this video, Ken Winnig, Northern Health Regional Director of Diagnostic Services, explains the benefits of the new machines. Additionally, hear from Karen Eldridge, a recent patient, who’s been positively impacted!

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Catching up with Myles Mattila

“I am not a mental health professional by any means, I’m just a hockey player.”

Myles Mattila in his hockey uniform.

Myles Mattila may not have the credentials, but he’s got the passion – enough of it to be a heck of a mental health advocate. Founder of MindRight and a former Northern Health Community Health Star (see our original story on him here!), Myles now lives in Kelowna BC, playing with the Kelowna Chiefs of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Although hockey plays a huge part in his life, so does mental health awareness. With Bell Let’s Talk Day coming up, it was the perfect time to catch up with Myles and see what’s changed in the past couple years.

Remind us, what is MindRight?

MindRight is a place where athletes who are experiencing any range of mental health challenges can visit and find support. Whether it’s professional resources for coaches or players, peer to peer support, or just having someone to talk to, MindRight can help.

What’s coming up? Anything exciting?

We’re planning for a MindRight app, which is great because it provides some more accessibility for youth athletes, and really can open up the door to other leagues. I think that’s the overall goal, to take MindRight and spread it into bigger leagues so more players have access to it.

What role do you think coaches, team managers, and sport organizers can play in mental health promotion/ prevention?

I think they play a huge part. If you watch my video on how MindRight sort of began, I talk about my teammate who was going through some ups and downs. I saw him acting differently, and I was worried.

“His smile was gone, but he kept saying, “’I’m fine.’”

So, I brought it to my coach’s attention, someone I looked up to at the age of 13, and thought had all the answers. Unfortunately, coaches don’t always know the best procedure, and my coach actually took hockey away from him. That was devastating.

Hopefully MindRight can be used by both coaches and players so they can find resources that help. I think coaches and organizations should let players know it’s ok to speak up, or even better, encourage mental health awareness. It can be as formal as having a speaker come in and present, or as easy as using green tape on your stick and gear to promote Mental Health Awareness Week.

In your experience do coaches, or peers, know how to support someone that does speak out for help?

Before, not as much, but now, yes, I think so. Older coaches can sometimes have different mindsets, probably because mental health wasn’t a well-known topic to them in their youth. They have that “old time hockey” mentality.

It’s kind of hard to ignore the issue now because it’s being recognized so often. Schools champion it, pro athletes speak to it. One in five people are affected in some way by mental health. Awareness and learning is key to changing how we act and fight the stigma attached to it. Coaches and organizations can change – my past coach changed once he heard my story!

Many sports organizations/clubs have zero tolerance substance use policies meaning someone can be kicked out or excluded from positive peer groups and social connections. Do you think there is a better way to handle substance use?

It’s tricky. In my opinion, I don’t think booting players from a team or organization resolves the problem, but I can also recognize the risk of substances within a team atmosphere. A person’s mental health has to be considered, but the team has to be protected as well.

I think best way to handle that sort of situation is to really dive into the team, figure out what’s going on and create a plan. If you can find out what’s wrong, and if that person is willing to be helped and looking for change, they should be given that opportunity.

“At the end of the day, a team is like a family. You don’t want to see your family go through hard times.”

Recognizing everyone has mental health, and that it is not a fixed state, how can sport contribute and foster to positive mental health in youth?

Sports provide an incredible atmosphere for growth. If you break it down, you’ve got a common goal, a team connection and lots of interaction – it’s a really underrated and cool opportunity to create a positive mental health support network.

Why is it so important for youth to talk about their feelings and experiences?

Honestly, it’s simple. You can’t get help without speaking to the right people. I think there have been cases where youth athletes reach out to the wrong people, and get shamed for talking about mental health. It makes them shut down and stop looking for help.

If you reach out to the right people who know how to respond and help correctly, people at places like Foundry, you can get the real facts you need and go from there.

What do you believe is the best way to educate youth on mental health and substance use?   

I’ve always thought that presentations play a big part in educating, but in my experience, the peer to peer network is the best, which is why sports and teams are so perfect for educating. If someone within a team atmosphere can be an ambassador, the guys listen.

I’ve always admired Kevin Bieksa and his advocacy for his friend and teammate who passed away, Rick Rypien. When young athletes see pros speaking about themselves and teammates, it’s relatable. We’re all playing the same game, so it’s not too hard to imagine that some of us may be going through the same problems.

Make sure to check out MindRight today. We wish Myles all the best moving forward with this hockey career and his mental health advocacy!

And don’t forget to nominate your Community Health Star now!

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