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CASUAL COUNTRY: Family ties help Cariboo family through tough times

Prest family face adversity with humour, positive attitude
The Prest family of Williams Lake includes Maia (from left), Erin, Cam, Keith, Ethan and Caelan. (Photo submitted)

Erin Prest admits she would never have imagined her oldest son would become a paraplegic at 19 years old.

“It’s just not how you thought things would be,” said Erin, recalling the mountain bike accident in June of 2021 that changed their lives.

“After the accident, I used to have a panicky feeling looking forward, but we’re all good now. Cam is very grounded. This doesn’t change who he is.”

The oldest of four siblings, Cam was a top student in school and an all-around athlete, playing hockey during his school years and taking up downhill mountain biking as a teen. He had just started a second season as a firefighter with the BC Wildfire Service when he took a jump in the Boitanio Park bike park in the dark, landing on his head, with all the weight and pressure of landing bursting two vertebrae in his spine.

It was a typical Friday night at the Prest home the night of the accident. Erin was working on a puzzle and Keith was watching a show, while Cam was out with friends. Erin said after she put the kids to bed she had a glass of wine and had just gone to sleep herself when the phone started ringing. They missed the first call, and second. They scrambled to grab the third call.

“The doctor called and right away I thought, ‘oh no, there’s been a car crash,’ so when they said no, it was a mountain bike accident I was relieved and thought ‘OK, he’ll be alright.’”

Cam’s injuries, however, were significant. He couldn’t feel his legs and they were preparing to send him to VGH via air ambulance. Come quick, said the doctor.

Erin threw a few things in a bag, headed to the hospital, and went with her son in the air ambulance.

“I watched his big toe the whole way down (to Vancouver) and I thought ‘Move, come on. Move.’ But it didn’t move. I don’t know how to describe it, but I already knew.”

In the days and weeks following Cam’s initial six-hour surgery, his family, and community, rallied.

Cam’s worried siblings, Ethan, Maia and Caelan, were a constant support at their brother’s side. Erin and Keith were too, and gave daily and weekly updates on Facebook for everyone worried back home. Not only were both Erin and Keith raised in Williams Lake, but their parents were too. Plus, the Prests have been hockey parents and volunteers within the Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association for years. All corners of the community were stepping up to help and offer words of encouragement.

“Knowing people believed in him, it was very powerful,” she said of the support. “You felt empowered, like you had a whole team out there rooting for you. I still don’t know how to thank everyone enough.”

Cam was injured in June. By September the Prests sold the only home their kids knew, renovated another home on Erin’s fathers’ place in the country north of town and made it fully accessible, and moved, all the while taking turns to be with Cam on his journey to recovery. A year after his injury, Cam returned to work at the fire centre, something Erin said has been “a Godsend. It gave him purpose.”

The family also added a couple “therapy donkeys” and two new pups to their lives after the crash.

“We wouldn’t be able to accept things as well as we would have if it weren’t for Cam’s attitude. His bravery, his attitude, the vulnerability he has shown … he has accepted his injury.”

She believes what got him into this situation will get him through it too.

“His sense of adventure, taking risks … will make him successful. I think he going to inspire someone, someday.”

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