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A Zest for Life

Ontario Certified Teachers find meaning and joy in their favourite pursuits.

By Lisa Van de Geyn
photos: daniel ehrenworth, Justin Tamane, courtesy of stephen bellerby, Marti Schaible, Chiara Salvatore, Lauren Ashley Photography

John Paul Kane, OCT, drag performer.
John Paul Kane, OCT, drag performer.

John Paul Kane, OCT, drag performer

It was late 2015 when John Paul Kane, who teaches kindergarten in Toronto, was watching a video from the San Francisco Public Library called Drag Queen Story Hour. The show brought together drag performers who shared stories with children. Kane says he was immediately inspired. "I had already performed with my students at a few Toronto Pride events, but I knew I wanted to do more," he says.

Enter the incomparable Fay Slift. Kane reached out to his friend Kaleb Robertson, a.k.a. Fluffy Soufflé, and the two paired their love of literacy with their drag personas, creating "Fay & Fluffy's Storytime." By 2016, Fay and Fluffy were reading for audiences of kids, adults and families at the Toronto Public Library. "We then embarked on a relationship with The 519 community centre, Glad Day Bookshop, the Gladstone Hotel and Queen Books, [among others] and have celebrated our five-year anniversary as ‘Fay & Fluffy's Storytime,'" Kane says proudly.

What's it like performing in drag for families? Pretty amazing, he says. "Parents thank us for sharing stories with diverse characters, sharing experiences of being queer, or single parents, or children who are adopted or differently abled. There are so many incredible authors and children's books out there, so it's an exciting time," says Kane. "Having kids ask me why I'm wearing ‘girl's clothes' is always one of my favourite moments. When the question arises, parents always look mortified, but I reassure them that I love the question. I explain that the dress I'm wearing isn't a ‘girl's dress,' but it's my dress. I tell them I love the colours or patterns and especially love being able to twirl." Fay's outfits are a marvel; all of the costumes are custom-made. "I love things that are big, fun and bold, much like myself," he explains.

The big news for Fay and Fluffy is the announcement of their own television show, The Fabulous Show with Fay & Fluffy, which will air on Family Channel in 2022. "It's a variety show for kids with a small studio audience, special guests, stories and songs. We're so excited to speak honestly about issues people face and celebrate diversity while making reading fun."

Carolyne Prévost, OCT, world CrossFit competitor

Caroline Prévost competes at the world CrossFit games.
Carolyne Prévost competes at the world CrossFit games.
"I've really increased my level of commitment. It's like having a second job. I fit in training as much as I can and I'm extremely competitive."
— Carolyne Prévost, world CrossFit competitor

Carolyne Prévost is super fit, incredibly active and always working out. Not only does she teach physical education and fitness (plus math and science) to high school students at École secondaire Gaétan-Gervais in Oakville, Ont., she's also a global CrossFit competitor.

At the world champion NOBULL CrossFit Games in Wisconsin held last summer, Prévost was one of 40 of the world's top female athletes (and one of only four Canadian female athletes) who qualified for the competition. She finished 27th after competing in a 1.6-kilometre swim and a 4.8 kilometre kayak, rope climbing six metres in the air and running a long-distance race. These weren't necessarily the events she excels at (her strengths are the 100-metre sprint, agility courses and lower body exercises like squats), but she did her best, thanks, in part, to a long history in sports. Prévost spent years playing soccer, hockey and practising taekwondo, and has 11 national championships in four different sports under her belt. She comes by athletics honestly; her father played hockey and her sisters all played soccer.

This was her second appearance at the CrossFit Games. Her first was in 2019, when she came 12th overall. "It was a really good experience. The workouts I competed in better fit my strengths. You just never know which events are going to be selected and whether luck will be on your side," she says.

Prévost got into CrossFit at the age of 23 after graduating from university. The sport features events that test an athlete's all-around fitness level, and it includes various competitions in endurance, speed, strength and aerobic ability. "I was bored with my regular workouts and enjoyed doing things like lifting and running. A hockey teammate mentioned CrossFit, so I went to a CrossFit gym in Sarnia, where I was spending the summer, to check it out."

Since then, Prévost has remained dedicated to training, often doing so twice a day for multiple hours at a time. And her fiercely competitive nature makes her no stranger to leaving it all on the field — or ice or gym. These days, Prévost is still playing hockey (she's part of the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association), but her priority is CrossFit. "I've really increased my level of commitment. It's like having a second job. I fit in training as much as I can and I'm extremely competitive. I also know there are events that I need to work at. I plan to continue to do the best I can."

Stephen Bellerby, OCT, hang-glider

Stephen Bellerby enjoys the view from his hang-glider.
Stephen Bellerby enjoys the view from his hang-glider.

The first time Stephen Bellerby went hang-gliding, it literally swept him off his feet. He was told to run down a small slope with a simple training kite and he would eventually feel it lift off his shoulders. That was the expectation. "But, as a young kid in a flight class full of adults, I was so tiny that the glider pulled me right into the sky and I quite unintentionally flew all the way to the bottom of the shallow hill" he says. "The feeling was unlike anything I've ever felt before — I was flying, not falling; I was gliding through the air."

And that's all it took for Bellerby's love of hang-gliding to take off. (Pun intended.) The occasional teacher at Toronto's King Edward Junior and Senior Public School and Harbord Collegiate, got his hang-gliding licence at age 14, nearly four decades ago. Today, he flies at a little grass airstrip at the Southwestern Ontario Gliding Association, just outside of Orangeville, Ont., using a launch method called "aerotowing."

"This is a purpose-built ultralight motor plane that pulls you up to an altitude a bit higher than the CN Tower, about 600 metres, and releases you to silently glide down," he explains. While Bellerby's up in the sky taking in the view, he often looks for air currents that birds, sailplanes and paragliders use to stay aloft without flapping. "Ideally, you find some good lift and can climb right up to cloud base. On a good day, you can be up for hours among the clouds."

Bellerby says that much like other forms of aviation, hang-gliding requires lessons and certifications for each level, but it's something that's fun from the start — and it's something that anyone can try. "With this aerotowing method, anyone who's curious can take a tandem flight with a certified instructor. They can fly close to 1,000 metres off the ground and get the chance to steer the glider themselves on their first flight." There are so many things about being up in the sky that appeal to Bellerby, but one thing he has always enjoyed has been watching birds fly and wondering how they're able to soar so effortlessly on air currents. "And learning how people, too, can use nature to fly on those same invisible rising air currents, thermal to thermal, sometimes for hours and thousands of metres aloft. That's been the real joy of flight for me."

Donald Hall, OCT, building for disadvantaged communities

Donald Hall builds houses for disadvantaged communities in the Dominican Republic.
Donald Hall builds houses for disadvantaged communities in the Dominican Republic.

Donald Hall has been teaching for more than 30 years, but he's also been making a special trip nearly every year for the past 17 years, since he became the chaplaincy leader at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, Ont. He travels to San José de Ocoa in the Dominican Republic annually to help make the dreams of locals a reality. And while he's outside of the classroom during these exciting, passionate trips, he's still making an impact on the students and colleagues who join him.

The DREAMS (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) program started 20 years ago in a religion class at St. Mary's. The students initially wanted to help the poor and were inspired to make a difference in the Caribbean. Since the program's inception, thousands of students—often accompanied by Hall—have built a school, a teacher's residence and 60 homes in the San José de Ocoa region.

It was back in the summer of 2004 when Hall interviewed for the chaplaincy position at St. Mary when he first heard about the DREAMS program. He had never been to the Dominican Republic. A year later, two groups left for San José de Ocoa. Hall was excited for his first journey.

"The day before our group was scheduled to depart, the airline went bankrupt," he recalls. "Finding 18 seats on a plane going to the Dominican Republic during the March break was a huge challenge." Still, the groups made it to their destination.

"Some of my most memorable moments include working in the mountains and building new homes for families in need," he says, adding his adventures have opened his eyes in other ways. "I'm reminded that we are poverty-stricken in ways that the Dominicans are not. They are blessed with joy, love of life, a strong sense of community and a deep, abiding faith in God. We have so much to learn from the people we meet in the Dominican Republic."

Hall says it's the culmination of his experiences that continues to take him back to the Caribbean. "What draws me back is the love of the Dominican people and the passion and teamwork of our students and staff, and our wonderful DREAMS families. While a Dominican family receives a new house, we receive a new perspective on life."

Hall and his colleagues are currently exploring the possibilities of doing similar work with Indigenous communities in Ontario. "DREAMS is continually evolving, and we look forward to reaching out closer to home in the near future."