Mark Walser | Celebrating 25 Years of Service

Welcome guest blogger Mark Walser, one of our longest serving team members. What does it take to engage someone in a lifetime of community-based support services? Could it be education, opportunities for growth and development, personal connections or something more? Keep reading to discover the unique twists and turns of Mark’s journey, and celebrate his contributions with us.

When I think about that question my thoughts go way back for me. Back to when I was a young child. I was four years old and attempting to talk to my mom on the phone. She was asking me questions and I wasn’t responding. Or when I had my back to her she would be talking to me and I wasn’t responding. She thought I was just being stubborn. My pronunciation of words were way off. With further investigation and a trip to the doctor, they found out I was completely deaf. The hearing doctor said I was lip reading and had developed my own language like water was “ingee”, pudding was “burla” and my sister’s name was “Sookee” but it’s actually Laurie. I had an operation on both hears to try to correct the problem and the doctor was only able to get my right ear to function. My left ear has a nerve issue to the brain and to this day I am completely deaf in my left ear.

I graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Physical Education and Science. I was heavily involved in sport and am a jock to this day. I was going to be a coach and physical education teacher but changed course. I craved excitement and to use my physical and mental abilities in a challenging career. After graduation, I pursued the Vancouver City Police SWAT team, firefighting and piloting a Canadian fighter jet in the Canadian Air Force. I was rejected by the police and firefighting based on my disability. The physical, mental, and education qualifications were superior, but that didn’t matter. I wrote examinations and had interviews for the Military fighter jet career and made it to the medical test, but was rejected at that point. All those professions required an actual audiometric booth hearing test. They wouldn’t have known otherwise, in just conversation. To me, I hear great – it’s all I have ever known and the body does amazing things to compensate. I know I would have performed well in any of those jobs.

So I wondered what was left, and contacted the Canadian Coast Guard. They were trying a new pilot project involving rescue swimmers. I was a head lifeguard in Surrey for 10 years at the time, so I thought I’d go for it. I made it to the medical examination and he turned his back to me and asked me if I had any problems with hearing and I said no. To me that is the truth. There was no audiometric booth hearing test. It was just a conversational requirement. I got the job.

For the next couple of years, I was shipped offshore to work on Coast Guard Rescue Cutters and the local Hovercraft unit. I excelled at my job as a Search and Rescue deckhand. In 1990, I was asked to apply at BC Ferries to help develop it into the best trained and equipped ferry service in the world. I started as a deckhand. I’ve been working there 27 years now on different ships that run on our beautiful coast.

I presently work as a navigating officer Chief Mate onboard the Queen of Alberni from Tsawwassen to Duke Point. It’s a 5 days on, 5 days off, 10 hours a day schedule. In 1996, I almost lost my job when management found out I was deaf in one ear and wanted to pull me from the ships and give me a land-based job. I resisted and with much support from Captains, Officers, other crew, along with hearing testing and meetings with Transport Canada, I kept my job. They felt I had more than proved I could do the job well despite the disability.

In 1992, I decided I needed another job to save money for a down payment to purchase my first house. I looked in the paper and saw a job teaching life skills for an agency called Proactive Community Services. It interested me because I remember one course at UBC I took called Special Education. It involved a practicum to see if I could teach an individual with severe Ataxic Cerebral Palsy to swim in any way independently. The practicum was four months long and very challenging, but very gratifying. I got an A+ in the course. So I answered the ad and talked to a wonderful lady named Danielle Hart who told me to come see her for an interview. Here I am 25 years later.

I enjoy the many great people I have met, both staff and persons served. I have worked with Ken Gabour for 25 years as his 1-to-1. He was the first person served I met, and I have a great relationship with him and his family. The things I have learned from him and other persons served have made me a better person. My experiences with them have helped me at my other job as a Chief Mate at BC Ferries, where I am responsible for leading a team of up to 50 crew members. There are many good things I have learned from working with posAbilities, from Mandt training to First Aid and Person-Centered Thinking training. This has made me better at understanding people and my crew. A large group of people can be a challenge to lead at times and I am grateful for what I have learned from posAbilities and the persons served. I use that experience and training in the way I handle, treat and train my crew. It’s made me a better leader. Working here in this environment has truly made me a better person and I thank posAbilities for that.

All the friendly faces, laughs and nice greetings from persons served and staff are very gratifying. When I walk into Richmond Social Network, the persons served make me feel like a rock star. The love and pleasantness is just fabulous. They are why I keep coming back. The feeling is mutual and I’m happy to see and support them in any way I can. We have all grown up together. I don’t see myself leaving them any time soon.

I am grateful for what posAbilities has done for my life. As well as providing me with sound mental health and a positive outlook about life and people, it has helped provide me with two houses, a 57-foot sailboat and a great quality of life. If it wasn’t for working with the staff and persons served at posAbilities, I would not have these things. There is still more to experience, places to see, and things to accomplish in my life.  My friends at posAbilities will have me and my support for many more years to come.

My advice to my younger self would be to never give up on your dreams, work hard at your jobs and career, when faced with adversity fight to win, when you are knocked down, get back up, and in the words of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Take your time and don’t live too fast, troubles will come and they will pass, follow your heart and nothing else, be something you love and understand, find a woman and you’ll find love, be a simple kind of man.”

Thank you, posAbilities.