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Living the most extraordinary life

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There are some incredibly gifted people living in the Valley that live extraordinary lives. Every year, Dec. 3 is recognized as the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. People with disabilities have to overcome some adverse challenges, yet when they are supported, they can excel and give back. 

Marcel Nabess is no stranger to everyone and has called Swan Valley home for 42 years.  When Marcel was born, he was diagnosed early with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).  He has experienced many challenges and many victories in life, living with his disability.

“They say they noticed it shortly after I was born,” said Nabess. “I couldn’t sit up right away, or feed myself. They said I would likely be severely handicapped for the rest of my life and not likely to live past my thirties.”

Like most children with disabilities, Marcel found learning at school challenging at times.  He started out his education at Opaskaweyak School, then on to Mary Duncan School in Grade 4. Marcel then moved to Benito where he attended school there for Grades 5 to 7, before moving to Swan River.

“When I first came to the Valley in the spring of 1978, there was a couple that I came to stay with,” recollected Nabess. “Ivor and Madge Nelson were very special people who helped me out tremendously. They were very caring people who raised me the way children should be brought up. They were just very kind, gentle and loving people. After they took me in, within five years I was doing amazingly well. I was going to school and getting an education.

“I had a learning deficit while in school. I had a really hard time paying attention and I was easily distracted by things. Fred McKim was a teacher who really stands out in my mind because he assisted me in getting through my education. He was a more down to earth instructor who gave me a lot of the ins and outs that I didn’t have when I first came from The Pas. He was more attention prone to me and taught me to bunker down and get my schoolwork done. In my opinion, it was he who gave me the opportunity to get my education completed in a way that I could do it.”

Marcel’s favourite subjects were Physical Education and Industrial Arts. He credits all the supports he had from good teachers and educational assistants, to help him complete his high school education. Marcel went on to graduate in 1985 and was able to secure employment right after.

“I received a plaque at graduation that said ‘Marcel, congratulations on completing the work experience program and academic studies in high school’,” said Nabess. “I was enrolled in what was called the Occupational Entrance Education in high school, which allowed me to get my job as an Environmental Support Staff at the Swan Valley Personal Care Home (SVPCH). It’s a job I have had for 35 years now, thanks to the help of Don Thompson, Angie Pierrepont and Bruce McMillan.”

Marcel felt he was very lucky to have the supports from people in the community to help him make the connections he needed to thrive. He did receive a lot of guidance through a supported living assistance program. Through that, he was able to access a job coach who helped him transition along in his employment. Marcel has greatly benefited from having supports in his day-to-day life so he is able to live on his own.

“I have a worker who helps me with some of the day-to-day stuff that I cannot do on my own and then there is a good portion of it that I can,” said Nabess. “She is very supportive, keeps things in check for me like my medications and appointments. She and the other workers do an admirable job when it comes to this.

“It’s very important for people like me to have our independence. It shows that life is what you can make of it. It’s imperative that if people do need those supports, that they have them too because it allows them to accomplish things they may not have been able to.”

So many people with disabilities face challenges that people are unaware of. What may seem like an easy task is not the case for all people with disabilities. For many who struggle with these challenges, finding a way to overcome them is a true feat.

“The majority of my struggles were medical issues,” said Marcel. “I am a diabetic and have a lot of appointments to attend to. Along with that, I have a middle ear condition that from time to time causes me to have dizzy and fainting spells that can sometimes put me in the hospital.”

Despite a few challenges, Marcel has also had some incredible once in a lifetime opportunities that will forever leave an imprint with him. From 2004 he has an Olympic Torch replica from a contest he won, where he got to travel to Montreal and participate in the Summer Olympic Torch Relay.

“I entered in this draw through Coca Cola back in February of 2004,” explained Nabess. “Then in March of that year, I received a phone call saying I won. I was just beaming. I got to carry one of the most powerful images on the planet. That was an amazing experience for me. I even have pictures of it on my wall.”

Marcel likes to give back to the community and volunteers his time and efforts where he can. He has done various small projects and carpentry work on the side from his position at the SVPCH.

“If you are going around town, you will probably take note of the sound stage down in the Swan River Legion Park – I helped build that,” said Nabess. “I do a variety of work such as cement, carpentry and odd jobs here and there.

“Everyone here knows I am a social butterfly,” said Nabess. “I also help the Swan Valley Kinsmen Club and support different organizations and groups in town. I will work at the rodeo booth and other events that they have to raise funds in the community.”

COVID-19 has been a challenge for Marcel but he is taking it in stride. He misses being around people and the social distancing can be disheartening. With that has come the realization for Marcel, that maybe it’s time to just slow things down a bit and not be in such a rush all the time.

“Unfortunately this is a fact of life we have to consider,” explained Nabess. “With the world population of about eight billion people, something like this is bound to happen once in a while. This is quite a challenge and has definitely been different, not being able to move around as much as you used to, especially around this time of year. No matter what I am still optimistic we will get past this with a little patience and understanding.”

Marcel has felt incredibly blessed by the supports he has received from everyone in the area. He has felt so included in the community and is proud to call the Swan Valley home.

“There is such a big bunch of people who have helped and supported me in the community,” concluded Nabess. “People here in the Valley have been very inclusive. That is the key for people with disabilities. It’s something I have advocated for to make sure people who are marginalized are not sitting on the side, left out looking like why can’t I do that.

“On the same side, people with disabilities cannot be afraid to ask for supports or help. There is no need to be afraid of our issues because if we communicate, there are people out there who are more than willing to help.”

Overall Marcel attributes his successes and happy life to having the right people and supports in place and has a few words of wisdom to share with those who also have disabilities.

“It’s very important to ensure you have the right supports in place,” concluded Nabess. “Look for the people around you who are kind and supportive. Make sure you know who your true friends are and that they can be there for you in a supportive way.

“Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you need assistance or help. By explaining your problem, generally, most people can help you from that point or will find out how. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance, because if you are silent, nothing will happen in terms of helping you if you have an issue.”

Marcel is one of many people living in the Valley with a disability. He doesn’t let his disability stop him from living life to the fullest and is a true inspiration and testament to how people who have disabilities can thrive in rural communities.