Doug Deeks wasn't going to let a recurring bout of cancer stop him from captaining the Rotary Rockets in Whistler's annual Peak to Valley race.
At 83, Deeks wrapped up his chemotherapy in November, rallied a team of four, and strapped on his skis for February's gruelling five kilometre-plus long race with a vertical drop of 1,443 metres and roughly 180 gates.
"He had us training for about two weeks before, taking us up and down the course, explaining how we would have to ski it," recalls Rotary Rocket team member Gord Leidal.
That's just how Deeks did things; not by half measures but by giving it his all.
Plus, these mountains were a place from which he drew his strength, chasing away illness as he chased down the gates.
But on August 2, the masters ski racer crossed his final finish line.
He had one more winter on the mountains, skiing 50 days as opposed to his typical 100 days, before the cancer came back again.
Deeks leaves a gaping hole in the community he called home for more than 20 years — the Rotary Club of Whistler, the Village Host volunteer program, the Mature Action Committee, the Seniors Ski Team are all dealing with the loss of not just a member of their individual communities, but a friend too.
"He was a great promoter of both the community and for doing things for people other than himself," said fellow founding member of the Seniors Ski Team Wendell Moore.
But before life in Whistler, before his winters of 100-plus ski days, more often than not with his wife Joan by his side, Deeks was a chartered accountant who ended the last decade of his career as an assistant auditor general for the federal government.
Deeks was born in 1928 in Montreal and grew up there with his younger brother Ken. His love back then wasn't skiing, rather it was playing the flute and the piccolo. And he was good at it too, good enough to maybe make it his career.
But, as much as he loved music, he wouldn't dedicate his life to it.
"He didn't want to be a starving musician," said Joan Deeks, quietly recalling her husband's past from their Whistler home.
Instead, he got an internship with an accounting firm and worked his way towards his CA through McGill University.
He worked for private firms in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa but it was management consulting that really got him excited, said Joan.
By 1980 when the two met in Ottawa, Doug was in his early 50s, a widower with two teenage children — Tanya and Doug.
Joan and Doug were introduced by a colleague of hers and fell in love. After a few years she moved in to the family's farm in Kemptville.
A decade later, after retiring, the two headed out west for a tour of B.C. ski resorts. Like so many before them, they felt a connection to Whistler.
What was it about Whistler that made them decide here, of all places, to put down roots?
"What wasn't it about Whistler?" said Joan. "The big mountains really appealed to us. Most of the other areas sort of paled by comparison."
And so, Whistler it was. And so it would remain for the next 22 years.
When asked if Doug was happiest here, close to his beloved mountains, Joan agreed, then paused: "Although Doug was always happy almost anywhere I've ever seen him."
Whether that was canoeing and camping in Ontario's Algonquin Park. Or skiing in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains. Or watching daughter Tanya compete with her horses. Or listening to concert music. Or skiing Whistler's big bowls.
"He always had a wide variety of interests," said Joan.
He expanded those interests in Whistler, becoming a key member of the Mature Action Committee, an organization founded and dedicated to making Whistler a place where seniors could stay and "age in place."
His volunteer work culminated in a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, presented to Deeks this year for his work on many projects with the Skatin First Nation through the Rotary Club of Whistler.
His work there included providing books to the school library at the Head of the Lake School, supplying educational software for the school computer and providing food supplies for student breakfast and lunch programs. If they needed art supplies or sewing machines, that's what he would go out and find.
"Whatever he tackled he was dedicated to it," said fellow Rotarian David Oakes.
He was both the treasurer for Rotary and for MAC.
"He did just an absolutely marvelous job of looking after the books of both organizations," said Leidal.
In his note to fellow Rotarians president Murray Wood shared the news with a heavy heart."From a personal point of view Doug was a friend, a mentor and was an inspiration for living life to its fullest," said Wood. "I shall miss him greatly."
Stay tuned to the Pique for more information on an informal gathering for family and friends to celebrate Doug's life, as per his wishes.
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