Achieving Milestones – Conan Winkelmeyer
Every time 26-year old Conan Winkelmeyer has been awarded the Tanabe Bursary by the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia (CPABC), it has allowed him to focus more on school and less on employment – and this has been reflected in his academic success. “I have received the bursary four times. You guys have been awesome!” he says.
For students with disabilities, post-secondary education can present more than the usual challenges of work, study, debt, and finding a career path. With fewer accessible part-time jobs, and typically more time needed to complete studies, young people with disabilities can incur up to $60,000 more in student debt than others. The Tanabe Bursary offered by the CPABC supports students with cerebral palsy in their pursuit of independence and higher education.
Young people with disabilities can incur up to $60,000 more in student debt than others.
School has been a journey for Winkelmeyer, who grew up in Prince George, BC. He first embarked on courses in psychology with a minor in First Nations studies at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), but has since switched his focus to teaching. He is currently doing an education degree for elementary K-7 and wants to be a counselor to help others. Winkelmeyer will graduate in April 2016. Through his studies and research, Winkelmeyer estimates that 80 per cent of counselling referrals come from within the education system.
He has gained a lot of counselling experience, including a six-week contract with the Family Development Society in Fort Nelson, which falls under the Ministry of Children and Family Development. In addition, he works part time at the Phoenix Transition Society, an outreach program in Prince George assisting male and female prisoners to understand different type of abuses and how they may have been affected by it.
The change in his academic path was in part influenced by his work with children in a daycare. “They were really accepting of me and didn’t really care about my disability,” he says. “A girl would hold my hand to show me something she did.” This is part of the reason he is taking an education degree, which is six courses and a six-week practicum. He taught grades 2/3 and 7 at Heart Highlands in Prince George for a three week period.
Transportation challenges during his practicum included wintry weather like snow and ice, and spending $300 on cab fare during a two week period, one of those weeks the University was on strike. Handydart requires passengers to be ready 45 minutes early but provides no flexibility with pick up, meaning he couldn’t stay later to mark papers and it was difficult to schedule time to talk to a parent or teacher.
Conan believes that people have to make decisions for the right reasons, and the result of those choices is going to push them further. He believes that life is about the overall journey, how you grow as a person and surrounding yourself with a great support team. He received early guidance and support from Tyler Abraham, a former Educational Assistant at R L Angus and Fort Nelson Secondary School. Conan liked that Abraham valued him for who he was. “He treated me just like anyone else. It really resonated with me,” he said.
Abraham describes Conan as outgoing and kind. “If he puts his mind to it, he can accomplish anything,” he says. “He has gone to university, he is completing his teaching degree and now he is using one cane instead of two.” Abraham was there to congratulate Conan at both his high school and university graduations. He feels that it’s a testament to his will that he’s persevered through pain and disability. “I have known him for 14 years and he has never complained about pain. He thinks that every day is a gift.”
I have known him for 14 years and he has never complained about pain. He thinks that every day is a gift.” – Tyler Abraham
As a kid, Conan looked up to Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, as well as musician Sarah McLachlan. “After my second surgery in Grade Seven, I started to create a bucket list while listening to the song Angel by Sarah McLachlan. I didn’t know what the outcome would be.”
When he was 17, he got a tattoo of a phoenix rising from the ashes. He has a photo with Rick Hansen bearing the inscription “Anything is possible”. “I got to do and see so many things,” says Conan. He was the first person with a disability to take part an international exchange from UNBC, studying in Sweden and visiting Amsterdam and Dublin. “I got to see the cultural background of where the family name Winkelmeyer came from,” he says.
Each year, the Tanabe Bursary helps 10 to 12 students with cerebral palsy to achieve their personal and academic milestones. The CPABC is proud to have been a part of Conan’s journey, and to see his perseverance and hard work pay off by bringing him closer to his dreams.
“If you’re determined enough, you can achieve anything.”