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Dawn Titus – Defining The Envelope

"I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." Marilyn Monroe My little buddy Dylan Boyd is one lucky young man.

"I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."

Marilyn Monroe

My little buddy Dylan Boyd is one lucky young man. In fact, I'm a bit envious. And no, I'm not talking about genetics. I'm talking about school. A kindergarten student at Spring Creek Elementary this year, Dylan has the singular good fortune of having a certain Ms. Titus as his teacher.

What? You haven't heard of Dawn Titus? She's a legend in these parts...

It's true. Educator, athlete, elite competitor, movie-mom, mentor, instructor, coach - and an inspiration to Whistler gals (and more than a few guys) for the last three decades - the inimitable Ms. Titus is devoting her not inconsiderable energy these days to wrangling South Whistler's rambunctious five-year olds.

Frankly, I can't imagine a more daunting task. Fun, for sure (yeah - maybe for an hour or two). But riding herd on 22 happy-faced, question-filled, mischief-making Whistler tots for five days a week, ten months a year? Oh, my aching head...

But somehow it fits. For Dawn is no ordinary human, think endorphin-charged Energizer Bunny - but without the need for batteries. I mean, this woman is a walking, talking perpetual motion machine. Wanna go for a bike ride to Pemberton? Dawn's ready. How about a stretch of Nordic skiing? Same. Or what about combining a handful of sports in one day? No problem. What's more, Ms. Titus can probably loan you whatever equipment you're missing. And teach you something about the sport along the way...

That's why I envy Dylan so much. He and his classmates couldn't be more fortunate to have the teacher they do. For if one subscribes to the old adage: "it takes a village to raise a child", the indomitable Ms. Titus reflects all that is positive and outgoing and envelope-stretching and fun about the Whistler community.

And you know what? If not for one phone call, her life trajectory might never have swung through Whistler. It all happened in the spring of 1983... But wait, why should I tell the story? Let's hear it directly from Dawn:

"Well, you know," she says, "the more I reflect back on my life, the more it seems that certain things were just meant to be..."

Like the phone call that came out of the blue from B.C. Alpine's Bruce Goldsmid? "Exactly," she says. "There we were - two young, recently-graduated teachers from Ontario - living and working in Grande Cache, Alberta." She stops speaking. "Do you know where Grande Cache is?" she asks. "It's a very small town northwest of Edmonton and surrounded by moose and muskeg." She sighs. "I was already set for a change. I'd just found out I was pregnant with twins and all I could think about was packing up the car and heading for home."

But she and husband Kevin hadn't anticipated the call. "Turns out the Whistler Mountain Ski Club was looking for a coach. Was Kevin interested?" Dawn smiles. "So Kevin told Bruce: 'I'd love to come, but I have twins on the way. Can you match my teachers' salary?' And they did!" The idea, she says, was to spend a year at Whistler and then head back home to Ontario." Another long pause. "But now - after nearly 30 years - you look at what's come to fruition and you gotta believe that it just didn't happen by chance..."

The Titus family moved to Whistler in the fall of '83. Dawn says they were embraced by the community the moment they set foot in town. "The people at the ski club were amazing. Marliese and Dave Torrence, Betty and Terry Hale, Bill and Sue Damn. They became "instant family". From the very start, it felt good."

But it couldn't have been all that easy. Whistler in the early 1980s was hurting. A devastating recession had chased all the speculative money out of town. Only the hardcore believers remained. As for amenities for young families, there wasn't much.

"I arrived in Whistler with two-week old twin boys," recounts Dawn. "And one of the first things I did was join Susie Mortensen's fitness class." She laughs. "That's where I met Marilyn McIvor, community Public Health nurse. She looked at me and said: 'Hey a new mum. Nobody told me there'd be another new mum in this class.' She too had just given birth. So we became instant friends."

But McIvor had a plan. "By November," remembers Titus, "Marilyn had gone back to work and I'd become her baby Ashleigh's nanny. 'After all,' she'd told me, 'you're already taking care of two newborns. What's one more?'" Another long stretch of laughter. "So there we were - Morgan, Joren, Ashleigh and me. It was a great winter..."

So how did she feel about her former protégé's Olympic gold medal race last year? "Hard to put into words," she admits. "But to see Ashleigh finally find her place - to see her perform like that on the world stage. It was totally amazing."

But back to Dawn's story. By the next spring, the young family was well and truly established in the valley. "Through some of the members at the club, Kevin had been offered the caretaker's job at Adventures West," she explains. "And that provided free rent AND a salary." She can't help herself. She has to smile. "Everything was working out for us. How could we leave? There were young couples with kids all over the place. So we decided to stay another year."

The clincher came when Martha Heintzman contacted them with an intriguing proposal. "She phoned us up one evening and said 'there's a lot that's come up for sale in Tapley's Farm. You should go for it.'" She shrugs. "I didn't even look at the property. Kevin came home. We talked about it a little. And Kevin said: 'yeah we should go for it." A long pause. She draws in a slow breath. "You know, that's still the place I'm living in now. It feels strange too because I'm in the process of selling it..."

The new development at Tapley's Farm - a neighbourhood referred to as 'Moms, Dogs and Children' - came about when a posse of local Whistlerites decided to take ownership of their housing woes in 1980 (yes, there were housing issues even back then) and do something about it. The result was the creation of the legendary Mountain Development Corporation (MDC) - and the first iteration of affordable resident housing at Whistler.

And it was quite a revolutionary move. Think about it. Here were all these young people willing to address their housing problems without turning to government for help. Realtors, lawyers, ski bums, artists, coaches, teachers - everybody got involved. As for the municipality, it got a big return too. In fact, it could be argued that the Tapley's Farm experiment became a model for Whistler's subsequent resident-housing initiatives.

Not surprisingly, the Titus family fit right in. "Back then it wasn't about waiting for someone to do it for you," explains Dawn, "You just got up and did it yourself."

Remember the Dandelion Daycare Centre? "That's a perfect example of the can-do attitude in those years," she explains. "And it came about because a small group of strong women got together and made it happen. We didn't need a lot of help from outside. We got materials donated and work-time offered for free. And people like Sue and John Paine, Dave and Connie Cathers and Debbie O'Mara put in countless hours on it."

Meanwhile, the young family was still living at Adventures West while Kevin slowly built the house that would become their home. "That was a pretty exciting time," says Dawn. "I remember going down to MDC with the boys and watching Kevin and Peter Xhignesse hard at work on the new house. Our plan to go back to Ontario was fading."

But it wasn't just about home ownership. "When I reflect back on those years - when I try to understand why I'm still living here after all this time - it always comes down to one thing. People. People. People. Sure, the lifestyle is wonderful and the geography is totally amazing. But the friends I made along the way have been instrumental in making me stay here. I wouldn't be who I am without them..."

By the winter of 1984-'85, Dawn was working on Whistler Mountain as a member of the Guest Relations team. "Jan Halderman had decided that I was going to be the information lady at the Roundhouse," she says. And laughs. "I was totally intimidated. I hardly knew the mountain yet. What if somebody asked me something I didn't know the answer to?"

No problem. She had strong backup. "What a team we had in those years," she says, with a happy gleam in her eye. "Cate Webster, Heather Lynskey, Jacqui Reck, Susie Anderson - with Cathy Dixon running the show! It was a wonderful opportunity for me. I wasn't ready to go back to full-time teaching, so working on the mountain three days a week was absolutely great."

Next week: Dawn flexes her sporting muscles, deals with big changes in her life and flirts with leaving Whistler.