Volunteer of the Month: Mike Conway

The WSAR member talks about the challenges and rewards in search and rescue

For many locals Mike Conway is known as the physiotherapist and co-owner at Back in Action Physiotherapy Whistler. But for a few, he’s the Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) member who helped get them out of harm’s way.

The Whistler Question caught up with Conway to learn about why he volunteers, the challenges of search and rescue and how backcountry users can make their adventures safer.  

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When did you get involved with WSAR?

I started training with Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) in September 2014 and after 6 months of weekly training I completed the ground search and rescue course, which was produced by the justice institute of B.C. That resulted in me becoming an active member of WSAR.

Why did you get involved?

I have always been inspired by the volunteer culture in Whistler and when the opportunity to join WSAR came up I jumped at the opportunity as it allows me to give back to the community I love in the sort of career I would have likely found myself in if not for becoming a physiotherapist.  

What’s the most rewarding part of being a member of SAR?

Being able to help people in my community when they are hurt or lost and the ongoing weekly training and skill development we get to take part in.

What’s the most challenging rescue you have been on? What made it so challenging?

Some of the challenges often faced by the WSAR team involve not knowing where to look, to being in dangerous terrain or to knowing we are involved in a body recovery. While these challenges have come up this year, I have been away for some of these calls and so between hiking up mountains or flying in with a helicopter, the calls I have been on have been fairly straightforward to this point.

One particular rescue, however, I found challenging from an emotional point because a young adult with a head injury appeared to be quickly declining in their condition. This person fortunately made a great recovery.  

Have people you rescued ever got in touch with you after to thank you?

The young adult with the head injury was referred by Whistler Health Care Centre to our concussion program at Back In Action Physiotherapy a few days after the injury. It was a little unique to meet this previously unconscious person three days later and manage them through their recovery. Three months after the injury I received a post card from the patient thanking the WSAR team and myself after they completed their first marathon, which is what they were training for when they sustained their injury.  

What’s the greatest lesson you have learned from being a SAR member?

Trust. There is this level of trust that begins to be shared enough to put your lives in each others’ hands. This is not the kind of trust you can demand, but earn. I am working hard to learn all I can from these amazing colleagues so that I can earn that trust.

What’s one of the most important things people can do to make SAR members’ lives easier?

While it’s probably not on people’s bucket list to be rescued, unforeseen things can happen. Things people can do to make WSAR lives easier is when they’re going on an adventure they tell someone about their plan so we have somewhere to start and be appropriately prepared for a possible overnight. 

Is there anyone volunteer you admire?

I admire all my WSAR colleagues, many of which have been involved for over 20 years and all of which have families and jobs yet they graciously give up their time to help people in trouble.

Our two WSAR doctors Renatta Lewis and Lizanne Bussieres, in particular, I truly admire as they both have had some very challenging family matters and yet they continue to give their time and offer their immense knowledge and skills to the Whistler community day in and day out.  

The Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium and The Question have partnered to celebrate volunteerism in the community. Each month we will feature one volunteer chosen by the club.

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