WATCH ABOVE: For one high school student east of our city, getting back to school this year held a whole new meaning. Vinesh Pratap explains.
EDMONTON — After months of fundraising and hard work, a 16-year-old Alberta boy who lives with cerebral palsy has gained back some of his independence with a new set of wheels.
Aaron Friesen was elated to drive himself to his first day of Grade 12 at Delnorte School in Innisfree, Alta. on Tuesday. He was greeted by dozens of his fellow classmates, students and teachers as he rolled up in his new minivan.
“That was awesome. I wasn’t expecting the whole school to be there,” he said Tuesday morning.
While driving yourself to your first day of Grade 12 doesn’t sound all that unusual for many teens, Friesen has overcome several obstacles to achieve his goal.
After losing a contest to win a wheelchair-accessible van, community members came together to raise nearly $50,000 so his family could buy the vehicle for Friesen. He got the van in February, but the 16-year-old wasn’t able to drive it because he didn’t have his driver’s licence.
“I would look out the window and see the van sitting there,” he said, “and it’s great that it’s home but it was kind of hard not to get in there and drive it.”
WATCH: Alberta community rallies together for wheelchair-accessible van fundraiser
With the goal of driving himself to his first day of class this fall, Friesen set out to get his licence. He studied hard for the online portion of the learning, and went through an extensive training program at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton to learn how to use the vehicle’s hand controls.
Friesen got his driver’s licence on his first try.
“It feels great. At some points I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do it so it’s awesome that I was able to do it,” he said. “It’ll change everything. I’ll be able to do a lot more on my own now.”
His mother, while a bit reluctant to see her son grow up, couldn’t be prouder.
“As a mother you want the best for your child and it was so important to him so then we all tried to help him along so he could achieve his goal,” said Agatha Friesen.
“We’re still parents so we’re still sort of scared in a way because it means letting go. Your children are growing up and that’s a hard step for every parent.”
She says this new-found freedom will not only allow him to drive to and from school, but it’ll open up greater opportunities for him to get a job and go to college.
“As a teenager they don’t always want mom to drive them around,” she said with a smile. “It’s just very exciting for him.”
“This gives him the freedom to choose, because he’s a very bright young man,” added Celeste Matovich, Friesen’s principal. “He will go places so this will give him the tool that he can get there.”