A surprise day, three girls and a wheelchair

Harmony Le Reste
Professional photographer and videographer

If there is something important in the life of this great dreamer, it is nature and its beautiful landscapes. It was in front of Home by the famous photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand that Harmony imagined herself traveling the world to capture all its wonders, camera in hand. Today, as a professional photographer and videographer, she is committed to making the Belle Province, her home, shine since she left France to settle here in 2015.


We are heading to Laval today for a full day with my two friends Daphnée and Suzie who came specially from France to visit me in Montreal. Three girls together, adventurous and a bit crazy, so far nothing special, except that I had to compose a custom program since one of them, Daphnée, is in a wheelchair. Quite a challenge that I overcame with the precious help of Tourisme Laval.

It was the first time that Daphnée and Suzie traveled to Quebec. They follow my Canadian adventures on the Internet through my project Barrons-nous, but there's nothing like discovering with their own eyes the beauties of this fabulous province. To mark the occasion, I organized a surprise day for them that they won't soon forget. This morning, when I was preparing the bags, the questions were flying: "But where are we going?", "I hope it's not one of your thrilling activities?" (They really know me well!), "Do we really have to bring the bathing suits?", "Damn, I didn't wax my legs! On my side, I'm gloating. My plan is working and my incoherent words are only adding to the confusion in their heads.

It is already 9:00 am. The bags are buckled and filled with things that will not be used all day, but which have wisely blurred the clues. Immediate boarding of my vehicle after having taken care to blindfold them.

The first surprise

It took us only 30 minutes to arrive at the place of the first surprise. The journey took place in an anxious silence. Strangely, it is Suzie who is the most anxious. Daphne, as for her, is rather calm. I help them to leave the vehicle blindly until the entrance of the building. The scene is funny. I push the armchair of Daphne. Suzie clutches my hips behind me not to fall. A motorist who lets us cross on the crosswalk starts to laugh by seeing us strolling.

I laugh out loud a little nervously. "What if they don't like my surprise" or worse "What if Daphne unfortunately can't participate?" Yes, wanting to keep it a secret, I couldn't ask her about her physical abilities to gauge if she would be able to do the activity. We will have the answer very soon.

The girls are now set up in front of the facade decorated with a big logo that should quickly put them on the runway. It's time.... 3, 2, 1 ! Untie your scarves girls!

I let you savor the moment...

My dear friends, hang on, I'm taking you flying like birds at Ifly! The excitement is at its peak. None of us really realizes what we are in for. We enter the center and are greeted by David, the trainer who will accompany us during our experience. With his devastating smile and his sharp humor, he quickly puts us in confidence. We jump in all the directions so much we are in a hurry to throw ourselves in the tube. But first, he has to discuss with Daphne to see if the activity will be safe for her. After a series of precise questions about her abilities, the verdict is in. It's OK! *Soulagement x1000* ! Despite her incomplete quadriplegia, Daphne is physically strong enough to safely try the experience with us. Imagine the smile on her lips at that moment.

It's time for the obligatory mini-training session. David is accompanied by a second trainer who will help us get laid (please don't read any other connotations into this, of course 😉 ). In a separate room, we watch a short film explaining the activity. Excitement is mingled with a strange anguish when we see the film's protagonists throwing themselves into the tube. Yet they seem quite serene. This is followed by a brief apprenticeship to communicate inside the wind tunnel. With the speed of the wind, the noise is such that it will be impossible to speak. So we have to learn a few basic gestures to understand our instructors' advice during the exercise, such as "stretch your legs", "lift your chin" or even just "relax, you're cool", to maximize the sensations.

We are already putting on our suits, helmets and goggles. We laugh at each other while looking at each other, because these outfits give us a false air of spacemen at the conquest of space. Some pictures are mandatory to immortalize the moment. Daphne equips herself with a special harness which will allow her to maintain her paralyzed legs in the good position. We are ready.

The hour has struck. We enter the airlock that separates the room from the wind tunnel. The machine starts up and we hear a big thud despite our earplugs. Our hands are sweaty, but here we go!

It is Daphne who voluntarily opens the ball. Not even afraid. I knew she would have a lot of fun, because despite her handicap, this great girl is a fan of unusual activities. Rowing, canyoning, and even paragliding are all experiences she has already had.

The two instructors around her take her into the glass tube. She takes off and flies like a leaf! The harness that holds her legs helps her to position herself well. I see on her face, and this, in spite of her cheeks deformed by the wind and her big glasses, a huge smile. She is having a great time and it shows. The instructors even manage to let her go a few times. On my side, I am covered with shivers. Not because I am afraid, but because I am filled with emotions. Daphne is my best friend. I was her roommate at the time of her accident that deprived her of her motor skills. Seeing her fly away like a bird touches my heart.

My eyes full of tears manage to discern silhouettes through the glass of the tube. The people, simple spectators, instructors or future parachutists for a day, also seem very intrigued by the scene, and with reason. What could be more beautiful than to see someone fly away like Peter Pan when life has deprived him of his legs. The scene is magnificent. A few seconds later, she enters the airlock. A thumbs up confirms that she found it great. To learn more about harness flights, click here.

It's my turn. I throw myself into the wind tunnel. Having already made a parachute jump, I am pleasantly surprised to find the same floating sensation. The wind completely covers my body. My instructor let me go quickly. I fly high! I even fly very high, so high that I pass the windows. But what an indescribable feeling. You know when you are in a car on a fast lane and you put your arm through the window? Well, a wind tunnel flight gives a similar sensation, but from your toes to the tip of your hair. I look at my instructor who waves me on. It takes me a good few seconds for the information to sink into my brain, because with the adrenaline rush I'm getting right now in my face, I've already forgotten the signs I learned 20 minutes ago. "Oh yeah! I'm extending my legs". A bit awkwardly, I wobble left and right. The control is not perfect, but I get off like it's not allowed. David catches me. It's already over for my first jump.

It's Suzie's turn. As soon as she enters the tube, she is already flying like a fairy. Her "banana" position is perfect and her slender figure is sublimated by the wind. She looks like a mermaid in her blue suit. What grace! Everything seems to happen very naturally for her; it looks like she has been doing this all her life. She even manages to orient herself in the wind tunnel. Left, right, up, down, Daphne and I can't believe how clever she is.

We will repeat our jumps three times. The experience is enough to notice a better control at the end of the third one. But what a sport! As soon as I got out of my third jump, I could already feel my shoulders being pulled. I guarantee myself aches and pains for the next morning! David and his sidekick even give us a demonstration to close the show. These men defy gravity with such a mastery that they seem to mock the laws of physics. Circles, spins, rolls, they make a spectacular choreography just for us. WOW! A quick glance to the left and I see my two companions with their mouths wide open in admiration.

It's already over. The least we can say is that once in the tube, time passes very quickly. We remove our caps, our helmets. A general madness laughs when we discover our dishevelled heads. Obligatory photo to immortalize the moment. I wait impatiently for the comments of my friends even if I think I already guessed the opinions. It is with great blows of "It was sick!", "What an experience of madness!", "Too great!" that we leave the place with memories full of the head and sacred photos to share with our close relations. "My boyfriend won't believe me", Suzie announced. The first step of the surprise day was a success.

Nothing like a good meal to recover from our (strong) emotions. It's at the Trois Brasseurs located right next to the Ifly that we decide to go eat. It seems like nothing, the falsely passive activity has really dug into our stomachs. Flammekuche for one of us, salads for the others; we spend a convivial moment debriefing on the incredible experience we had just shared together.

"But what do you have in store for us next?" Last mystery still hanging in the air. We have two options for our afternoon, but I prefer to talk to my friends to make the right choice. Between the flight simulator in a Boeing 747 or the kayak outing, we opt this time for the outdoors. It is on the river of the magnificent Parc de-la-Rivière-des-Mille Îles that we will spend the rest of our day.

We leave in kayak!

We arrive at the Parc de la Rivière des Mille-Îles. It's a place I already know. I'm sure they will love this little piece of natural paradise near the city. We are greeted by the park's technical director who quickly explains the park's important wildlife preservation goals. After parking our vehicle, he helps us carry Daphne in her chair to the river's edge where Renard Souciant, our kayak guide for the afternoon, awaits us. Don't be surprised by his name. This nice young man got his nickname from his experience as a scout leader! No doubt, we are in good hands. We put on our old life jackets for the sexy part and here we are already carrying our kayaks to the water's edge. For obvious reasons, Daphne will ride with our guide. I will be with Suzie in a second boat.

But how to carry our Daphne to slide her in the narrow place of one of the kayaks? Fortunately, some reinforcements arrive to help us carry her safely. Like a princess, she is lifted by two valiant knights to her floating throne. But there is no question of her letting herself be carried around. Daphne wants to participate and offers us to tape her hands on one of the paddles to contribute to the activity. A few quick steps to find the comfortable position in which she feels good and we do it without broaching. On our side, Suzie and I climbed up to the front. As an avid canoeist, I've been out on many trips over the summer, so I'm the best at steering the boat between the thousand islands.

And here we go for the first strokes of the oars. We progress on the river, which is strangely calm for a sunny afternoon. We are practically alone on the water. Renard Souciant speaks to us with passion about the particular vegetation that grows in the park and the animals that frequent it. Not surprising for a biology student. We slalom between the islands, we go around small beaches, we pass in narrower places where the weeping willows come to brush our boats.

The activity is more quiet than the surprise of the morning, but it is a good thing. We take advantage of the green landscape. It is difficult to imagine that we are so close to the city. Around us, everything is very calm and relaxing. "Well Suzie, maybe you should help me to row a little," I joked. Drop in such a beautiful place a photography lover and you'll just have to paddle by yourself until you get back to land. I tease her, but I'm glad she's enjoying it!

We pass under a small stone bridge where wild vines grow. Our kind guide suggests to pick some grapes. The fruits are very small and acid like berries, but they are delicious. We share our modest feast when suddenly, Renard Souciant asks us if any of us is afraid of spiders. Just hearing the word was enough for me to tense up all my muscles and shiver. "Ugh, gross!" I exclaimed. No doubt, if there is one among the three who doesn't like insects so much, it is me! And here he is taking the beast in his hands and explaining us that it is a small female considering the shape of its eight legs. Surprising young man, you said? Further on, he makes us discover one of the least well kept secrets of the park: one of the former houses of the singer Céline Dion that it is possible to approach from the river. This is enough to satisfy our "people" side.

The canoe trip ends in a good mood. The return to the mainland goes smoothly. We even met some ducks, one of them with a beautiful colored plumage. It is a diving duck. "The first of the season", exclaims our guide, ".... and surely the last one since we are already at the end of September! We are lucky to get so close to it. A few more strokes of the paddle and we are back at the pontoon. As at the beginning of the activity, the two valiant knights make their return near our princess Daphne to help her to join her two-wheeled steed. A brief goodbye to our new friends and we are back on our car.

"So girls, did you enjoy the day?". I ask the question, but I already know the answers. I said, "Well, I sure did! It was awesome!" All three of us are unanimous. On the way back, I see Daphne sitting on my right who is already writing a post on her facebook page "1 parenthèse 2 vies" to tell about her day from her mobile. In my rear view mirror, Suzie has her head in her camera. I guess we are in a hurry to share with the whole world our wonderful surprise day. Hundreds of pictures, videos, social media posts, but most important is the gigantic amount of memories we just created together, and that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We are happy. Paris held, PARIS WON!