So where did we leave off in the continuing exploits of that mighty moppet, Madison “Madi” Ambos?
Ah, yes. A year ago, she went for her first skate, at age 5. “I want to go FAST!” she squeaked. Then she gritted her teeth, gripped her walker and pushed off onto a park rink in Scarborough.
Pretty routine for most Canadian girls, but something of a miracle for Madi, who has cerebral palsy. Three years ago, she could not stand unaided, let alone skate.
A regular reader of these pages knows the rest of her story: How she toiled through endless hours of therapy, braved the Variety Village pool and took her first shaky step. How she melted a thousand hearts with that smile, even the cold, hard hearts of politicos. Toronto Sun readers joined the chorus and the Queen’s Park finally agreed to fund a life-changing surgery for Madi and kids like her.
She’s come a long way for a six-year-old.
The walker has mostly been relegated to a corner. Lately, Madi has taken to setting walking goals. The pool change room door to the lunchroom. The lunchroom to the cavernous gym. The gym to the front desk.
The other day, she declared to her mom, “I’m gonna walk to the car.” The charming ladies who staff the Variety Village front desk stood and applauded as she tottered out to the parking lot. Katherine Ambos beamed and recorded her daughter’s latest adventure.
“Out in the world, she used to be so scared of falling,” says Katherine. “No more. The therapy here has taught her how to fall and get back up. So, now she just goes for it.”
“The best part is I can race my brother,” says Madi. “I still can’t beat him, but pretty close.” Kid brother Jack remains her biggest fan. “We’re best friends,” says Madi.
“They can play in the backyard and I just watch from the kitchen,” says her mom. “We used to have to hold her all the time. Now she can just get up and DO stuff.”
Score another triumph for Variety Village.
Which brings me, again, out of retirement in the deep woods of Manitoulin Island to Variety’s bustling halls, to catch up with Madi and her mates, and to launch the newest Sun Christmas Fund.
The Village, at Kingston Rd. and the Danforth, is rather more chaotic than the wilds around my cabin. Wheelchairs abound, but anyone can be a member, regardless of age or disability. Even a creaky old newspaperman. That’s the whole idea of the place. All are welcome. Just check your misconceptions at the door.
“Man, these kids will change you, and your whole perspective on life,” says staffer Chauncey Harris, 21, riding herd on a mob of day-campers, including Madi, who has been sprung from Grade 1 for a PA day.
“They come here because it’s a comfortable place to be themselves,” says Harris. “At the end of the day, all kids just want to have fun.”
So they decorate cupcakes, play a gentle kind of dodgeball, watch Up, the Disney movie, and get into mischief as all kids do.
Only more so. The lunchroom is the scene of a cupcake massacre and one lad in a Superman shirt dekes into the ladies room and pulls the nurse alarm.
“It just takes a minute for him to calm down,” says Chauncey Harris, calmly. “This place is all about moments like this. You just have to be calm. All the time.”
Variety staff are saints, surely.
Day camp ends, Katherine arrives and Madi walks to the Variety pool for a lesson. She took her first dip there aged 18 months and now is in the feeder program for Variety’s legendary Flames swim team.
One day we may see her on the podium at a Paralympic Games. Or hoisting a Nobel Prize.
“She wants a science kit for Christmas,” says Katherine. “She’s realized that scientists at, say, Sick Kids, make medicine to help kids get better. So that’s what she wants to be.”
Move over, Albert Einstein, here comes Madi.
Help Madi and other kids at Variety Village
You, too, dear reader, can help wee Madi along her way to a PhD and scientific glory. Or at least help her run, jump and play like the six-year-old she is. Other kids, too.
How? Through the Sun Christmas Fund for Variety Village. Between the fund’s founder, late, great sportswriter George Gross, and me, we’re closing in on $1.5 million. So take a bow, but the need continues.
As always, there’s a fine lineup of draw prizes, but the sweetest reward of all is the smiles on the faces of Madi and her friends. Donate direct at sunchristmasfund.ca. See Page 20 of Wednesday’s Toronto Sun for details.