Brad Spence grants young fan’s Christmas wish

23 December 2011 21:46

Canadian World Cup racer Brad Spence helped make his biggest fan’s dreams come true Friday when he granted an eight-year-old boy’s Christmas wish to become his personal sponsor. 

Gage Ferguson who has Asperger Syndrome, first met Spence shortly after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and immediately developed a close bond with the slalom ace. When Gage heard his hero was looking for a sponsor to help fund his skiing career, he started saving money in his piggy bank.

Spence was so touched by the letters and videos Gage sent, asking to be his sponsor, that he visited Gage at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Alta., on Friday to tell him he will wear a special ‘Gage Ferguson’ helmet logo for one race – a World Cup slalom in Wengen, Switzerland, on Jan. 15, 2012. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, one of Alpine Canada’s sponsors, also announced they will fly Gage and his family to Switzerland to watch the race.

“Gage is a genuinely awesome kid who is always dreaming big. He has taught me that the sky is the limit, and that life is full of simple pleasures,” said Spence, 27, who competed in slalom and giant slalom in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. “I was quite taken aback that Gage wanted to spend his piggy-bank savings to help me follow my dreams. In a world where generous people often aren't rewarded to the extent they deserve, I wanted to do my best to return the favour.

“I am extremely thankful that KLM has come on board to make this entire journey possible. I’m really looking forward to Gage seeing one of my races in person. I hope it will be a trip he and his family will never forget.”

Spence, who battled back from a career-threatening injury suffered in a 2006 ski crash to establish himself as one of the world’s best slalom skiers, first met Gage through his mom, Jenn, who helped Spence with his website shortly after the Olympics. Spence also spoke at Gage’s former school, St. Basil, in June 2010, and made a big impression on the youngster.

Gage, a student at Calgary Academy, wrote the skier a letter asking to be his sponsor and his mom posted a copy on Spence’s Facebook wall. Gage explained that he wanted to help Spence, “’Cause training costs money and he would be the best.”

Gage’s family kept news of the one-race sponsorship and the trip to Wengen a secret so Spence could surprise him Friday upon his return from Europe, where he has been competing on the World Cup circuit.

“This is the best Christmas present ever,” said Gage, after hearing the news. “I don’t know what to say!”

 “KLM is truly proud to be offering transportation for Gage Ferguson and his family to the alpine World Cup race in Wengen, Switzerland,” said Pascal Riemens, commercial director for Air France-KLM Canada. “We are touched by this young boy’s act of kindness towards Brad Spence in this season of giving.”

Gage’s mom Jenn, a teacher, said it might take a while for her son to fully understand what lies in store for him next month. He has never travelled outside Canada before, she said.

“Gage has pictures of Brad skiing on his bedroom wall and sometimes at night, he will lie in bed, close his eyes and imagine that he’s at the bottom of a ski hill watching Brad race,” said Jenn. “He won’t have to rely on his imagination any more when it comes to Brad racing. He can actually be there. This will show him that dreams can come true.” 

Spence said the money Gage saved in his piggy bank – a total of $149.39 – will be donated to the Branch Out Foundation, which raises funds for research into therapy for neurological disorders with the aim of finding a cure for the various complications of the nervous system. Gage has Asperger Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“Branch Out is grateful to have the continued support of a high-level athlete such as Brad, and we are honoured to accept his donation on behalf of Gage,” said Graham Daw, vice-president of the Branch Out Foundation. “We are excited that Brad has chosen us as his way of giving back toward neurological research.”

Although Spence is Gage’s hero, the youngster prefers snowboarding to skiing.

“It’s funny that Gage is a snowboarder and Brad is a skier but he always says, ‘Mom, we all go down the mountain. It doesn’t matter how we get there. That’s what inspires me. We can be different and it’s okay,’ ” said Jenn.