As former competitive athletes, Preston and Mariah Shupe know a few things about determination and resilience. Living in Europe for Preston’s hockey career, they came to realize how crucial these traits would be in their lives outside of sport.
In the fall of 2019, shortly after welcoming their first child Winnie, the family returned to Europe for what they expected would be an exciting new chapter of life with their little girl. But at just a few months old, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that changed the course of their lives forever.
Coming Home to Heal
“The initial prognosis wasn’t very good. The doctors told us it could be weeks or even days,” recalls Preston. “But luckily, those weeks turned into months. She was very resilient and strong. Eventually, she was strong enough to fly back to Canada. In August 2020, we flew home.”
The family arrived back in Saskatchewan to be closer to friends and family for support. Soon, they were regularly travelling between their new home in Moose Jaw and the children’s hospitals in Edmonton and Saskatoon. After about a year, one of their doctors asked if they’d ever considered applying to Make-A-Wish Canada – a Youth+Us partner – for their daughter. “We hadn’t,” Preston says. “We knew about it, but you never really think it applies to you.”
The family decided to apply. To their surprise, Winnie qualified would get her wish: an entire week in Disney World, with all expenses covered and plenty of special treatment for this determined little girl.
The Trip of a Lifetime
In May of 2023, the family – now including their son Wolfe, not quite a year old – boarded a plane to Florida. “In the lead-up to the trip there was a 10-day countdown calendar where they gave little gifts for Winnie every day,” Preston says. They were humbled by the attention, but the generosity just kept going. “They thought of everything. Medical supplies at where we would be staying. Even the insurance.” It left a mark on them all. “I don’t know if we could ever experience Disney like that again, with how amazing it was.”
They had some initial concerns about how Winnie would react to the long trip and such a stimulating new environment. But those worries soon dissipated. “[Her] favourite thing was meeting the characters…she loved them,” Preston says, with her favourite ones being Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck. “With the Make-A-Wish pass, you go right to the front of the line, wait a minute, and then you get to meet the characters. They’re so good when they see your Make-A-Wish stuff. She would just light up. It was pretty amazing – it was magical.”
The moments away from Disney World were special, too. “She loves swimming,” Preston explains, “so, where we stayed, it had a pool. We’d go to the parks in the morning before it got too hot, then go back and we’d take the kids swimming.”
“Every day was filled with so much gratitude. We’re so thankful for Make-A-Wish and everyone involved. Giving their time to make sure you have the best week of your life. Until you’re on the other side of it and you actually use the program yourself, you don’t understand how incredible and powerful it is.”
A Long-lasting Impact
For the family, one of the most unexpected things was how much the trip gave them – long before they even left.
“We live fairly short-term. We don’t really make plans for two, three, four months ahead – you just never know what your future will look like,” Preston says somberly. “But booking that trip…it really gave us something to look forward to. We were excited, she was getting excited. And that was such a huge thing. By the time we were leaving, she was probably the healthiest she’d been in well over a year.”
And now, back to their regular daily lives, Preston and Mariah have nothing but appreciation for the difference that Make-A-Wish has made. “I can’t think of a better organization that helps families and kids…We’re super thankful and we’ll always be trying to give back. No matter what we do for the rest of our lives…we’ll never be able to even come close to breaking even on what was given to us for that week.”