Cam Prest is easygoing, friendly and positive, which are three things not everyone would be able to exude just two years after losing the use of his legs at 19 years old.
Cam believes his easygoing personality is one of the factors enabling him to adapt to his new reality after the mountain bike crash which changed his life.
“I don’t like to think ahead into the future, I just like to deal with stuff as it comes,” he explains, speaking to Black Press Media of how he has dealt with the challenges he has faced since June of 2021.
He was riding with friends in the Boitanio Bike Park.
“It was dark, so that was the first mistake,” Prest begins, as he tells the story of the night of he came down wrong on a bike jump.
Unable to properly see the landing, Cam remembers coming off his mountain bike and landing on his head.
“When I crashed, I burst my T4 and T6 vertebrae,” he explains.
He was in shock, laying on the ground, until the ambulance arrived.
“I just thought it was the rocks digging into my back that was hurting as I was laying there.”
An ambulance transported him to the Cariboo Memorial Hospital, where he was prepared and sent by air to Vancouver. At Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), he underwent six hours of surgery.
Prest is soft-spoken, and calm as he recounts the story of the bike crash and injury. He doesn’t recall what the doctor said to him when he woke up after his injury and learned he might never walk again.
“I didn’t really react, I just managed to stay pretty calm through the whole thing.”
It was three weeks before he left VGH for GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre where he spent two months doing rehab.
During his stay in GF Strong, Rick Hansen came to visit him while he rehabilitated from the injury.
“It was just comforting to know that it was possible, my life’s not over,” he said, of the visit from the Man in Motion icon.
Prest is an incredibly positive young man, despite being someone who led an active and physical lifestyle previous to this. Before his injury his hobbies included hockey in the winter, mountain biking in the spring and summer, and his job was fighting fire as a seasonal BC Wildfire Service employee.
But instead of sounding frustrated, Prest sounds grateful as he explains how even through rehab, he did not experience extreme pain.
“I was super lucky that is was just my back and nothing else, like no arms or I didn’t break any ribs or anything.”
Throughout his process of injury, recovery and now adjusting to his new reality, he said he hasn’t really had many roadblocks, partly thanks to the incredible support he has had from his family and the community.
“The community coming together like it did was amazing,” said Prest, noting the Go Fund Me page and donations were a huge support for the family, allowing them to renovate their new home for wheelchair access, purchase a new wheelchair and adaptive mountain bike.
While he was enjoying using the adaptive bike on the machine built mountain bike trail Loose Moose, he did have a crash and scared himself enough to decide to take a break for a bit.
“Luckily this time I was wearing a neck brace,” he recalls of the incident, which left him sore and his helmet scratched.
It is perhaps because of his amazingly positive outlook, he has managed to obtain a job with BC Wildfire Service. He had been on the Vesta Unit Crew prior to his injury, having worked through the 2020 fire season and was just partway into his second season with the crew when he was injured.
“I liked having 20 best friends all the time, it was a pretty cool experience,” he says of his time on Vesta.
In September 2021, he arrived back home, his family had moved into a new house in order for him to manage in a wheelchair.
“All that winter until February, I was just at home, figuring things out,” he recalls.
But it wasn’t long before he returned to work, and is now an operations assistant, handling the logistics and plans role for fire centre operations, booking hotels and organizing the food for crews, and calling contract crews when they are needed. While it’s not firefighting on the line anymore, he does admit it is an exciting desk job.
While there are still challenges he is facing, like being stuck largely indoors during the winter due to mud and snow, Prest is grateful for his own strengths, such as the fitness he does have in his arms.
“Being in the manual chair and having good arm strength I’m able to muscle my way through a lot of things other people might struggle with,” he notes.
Something which has now given him a renewed interest in sports is archery, after his 12-year-old brother Caelan inspired him to try the sport. Caelan had joined the junior Olympian program with the Cariboo Archers and encouraged Cam to join him in the organization.
Cam’s interest continues to grow, and before the busy work of fire season got underway, he was shooting at the Williams Lake Sportsmen’s Association a few times a week.
“I find it just completely calms me down and then I’m so focused on the shot process that I just get away from everything I guess,” he explains about what has captured him about the technical sport.
The other aspect which Cam appreciates about archery is how it is more him against himself, trying to better his own performance in a solo activity. His compound bow and other archery equipment were stolen from his vehicle earlier this year, but luckily they were recovered after a call out on local and social media. The bow was turned into the RCMP and returned to Cam in one piece. His sentimental firefighting belt was also returned.
He does hope to compete in para archery, however, the nature of his injury provides a barrier, as the categories for para-sports are very specific in which adaptations an athlete can use.
While Cam does have the use of his arms, due to the location of his injury he does not have much core support. The regulations for competing as a para athlete only allows him to use a chest strap, which does not provide enough support for him to shoot.
With a shoulder strap, he can maintain an upright position enough to shoot the bow, but because he has the use of his arms, he can not shoot with this strap under para rules.
While he has requested an exception, at this point he isn’t able to move forward in his dream of competing in the Paralympic Games. As well as a new interest in archery, Prest has also gone to a couple of sledge hockey camps, which he really enjoyed.
“It’s super hard,” he says of the challenges balancing on the sledge, moving with the picks and stick handling all at the same time.
“There’s a lot going on for just two limbs.”
His pragmatic attitude includes how much assistance he wants from his family, which has been helping him throughout his recovery and reintegration back to work and life.
He says they helped him immensely at the start and now as he becomes more capable, they have backed off to let him manage more on his own.
“Which is good, because I’d rather be treated like everyone else rather than people tip-toe around me.”
Want to read more local stories like this? Sign up for the Williams Lake Tribune’s newsletter right to your email. Consider purchasing a subscription to the Tribune to support local journalism for just .99 cents per week!