The Stevens family goes for a walk with Roman. The guide dog made an instant impact on the View Royal family.

Reporters’ notebooks: Touching moments from 2016

Reporter Joel Tansey recaps his favourite stories from the West Shore in 2016

Even though I’ve been working at the Gazette less than five months, I found it difficult to narrow down a list of my favourite stories.

But sometimes tough decisions need to be made and a couple of stories do stand out for me.

I’ve never cried on the job.

While working for the Golden Star, I covered emotional avalanche rescues, interviewed individuals fondly remembering a fallen friend and the sudden passing of a beloved fire chief, but none brought me close to tears.

That tearless “streak” nearly came to a sudden, soaking halt a month into my new job when I found myself interviewing a mother who was simply grateful to be able to do something with her children that most parents wouldn’t think twice about.

Heather Stevens, a View Royal mother of two autistic children, was brought to tears when she explained how it felt to go for a walk with both of her sons at the same time, a possibility thanks to a new guide dog that can serve as an anchor in the event that one child decides to run away.

My own tears didn’t feel far behind, but I managed to hold it together. Still, the story of how one guide dog and one organization (B.C. and Alberta Guide Dogs) could have such an incredible impact on a family was incredibly moving.

There’s no bigger responsibility than that placed on a parent. Having two children with special needs makes the role of a parent that much more challenging.

Heather spoke at length about how it completely changed what she and her husband, Blair, could do with their kids. Family trips down to Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the seals – a favourite activity for both Sawyer and Ryker – were now possible. One parent could now safely take the kids to the mall or for a walk around the neighbourhood, giving the other parent a break.

A giant barrier was lifted on this family and it’s a story that will stick with me for a long time.

Another story that stands out for me is that of the 2016 Westshore Rebels.

Being a sports nut, the Victoria sports scene was one of the first things I researched once I got the job with the ***Gazette, and I quickly discovered that the last few years had not been kind to the local football team.

My first game covering this struggling franchise happened to be a rivalry game against the Vancouver Island Raiders. The Rebels had lost 25 straight games to their hated opponents and I wondered if I was about to watch the Island version of the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals.

By the time the night was through, I came to the realization that this Rebels team was different than the one that had made 2-8 a habit. A convincing 45-22 thrashing of the Raiders, which included a 270-yard day from running back Jamel Lyles that would foreshadow his record-setting season, was all it took to convince me that something special was brewing at Westhills Stadium.

The other highlight of the Rebels’ BCFC championship season also involved the Raiders. Having finished the season 8-1-1, the Rebels were heavily favoured as Vancouver Island came to town for a semifinal showdown, with the winner earning a place in the Cullen Cup.

From the get-go it was clear the Raiders were going to give Westshore everything it could handle, and the visitors appeared to be in the driver’s seat with just minutes remaining in the second half. A surprise onside kick, and recovery, from the Nanaimo team appeared to put an end to a dream Rebels’ season, but head coach J.C. Boice’s boys didn’t panic. The defence made a key stop and the Rebels began their march. Lyles rushed, quarterback Ashton Mackinnon threw and Westshore scored a dramatic game-winning touchdown in the dying seconds to thrill the home crowd. It was electric.

Whether it’s a touching story about a local family or the thrill of a close Shamrocks, Grizzlies or Rebels game, the West Shore has enough to keep any reporter intrigued.

I’m already looking forward to the stories 2017 will bring.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com

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