Reflecting on a roller coaster year
In 2017 Ron Rouben knew something needed to change. Now, in 2019, life has changed much more than he expected.
He had worked in the Rockies for 12 years, managing restaurants, cooking and taking on other hospitality jobs. Despite volunteer work and taking part in outdoor groups, Rouben hit a wall of depression and made the choice to travel for a year.
“I decided I had to branch out and try something completely different.”
With the help of Google he soon set off for Monte Lake, B.C., working on a lamb farm in exchange for room and board.
Rouben said the experience was totally new, but after having to choose which lambs would be slaughtered he looked for a new farm to try.
His adventures took him to a goat dairy farm in Nova Scotia and then to a pig farm in Ontario, learning the whole time.
“I think every cook should work on a farm to get an appreciation for growing what goes on the plate.”
The next year Rouben was looking for his next move when he saw a job posting for the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel & Conference Centre. Having worked at and loved the Banff Centre for the Arts in conference services, he decided to apply.
On Nov. 28, 2018 he arrived in Sun Peaks for the first time and started work as a guest service agent for the hotel. He soon picked up a job scanning tickets to get more hours and was working seven days a week.
A few weeks later Rouben was the first on scene to respond to a medical emergency in the lift line while working and it made him think about his future prospects.
“I thought ‘wow, I feel like I today I did something important.’ It got me thinking I could be a paramedic and then what are some of the other options?”
Combining his love of animals developed on the farms and interest in more meaningful work, Rouben set his sights on becoming a vet tech.
“It’s more realistic, I’ve always loved animal welfare.”
He began upgrading courses to apply for the two year program, but in April past struggles with mental health resurfaced unexpectedly, resulting in Rouben losing his job. At that point, Rouben said, he thought he would have to leave Sun Peaks.
“Given the community is so small and given that it was the shoulder season I didn’t see any prospects for employment…(But) I was hired the next day by Rob and Tania at Vertical (Café) and Sudhir and Rohina at Mountain Tiger…Partly due to my (previous) performance and partly due to the tremendous compassion that these people have I was able to continue working seamlessly. They were all great.”
Not only did Rouben immediately find himself back at work, he was surrounded by support from both his circle of friends and the wider community.
“The reaction from the community blew me away, the outpouring of support…I was stunned. Strangers supported me and were interested on purely compassionate grounds. That was huge for me. I have never experienced that before.”
Friends like Harry Keane, Jade Broadbent and others, helped Rouben get back on his feet. Another friend, along with their dog and cat, lent what Rouben described as incredible support that helped immeasurably.
Jase Petersen from Black Beaver Athletic invited him to the gym, something Rouben credits with helping him focus on healthy activity soon after the setback.
“Instead of sulking I got active.
“I went from ‘I should leave’ to…it would’ve been easier to leave but I didn’t want to run…I felt like it would’ve been a failure to just call it a day, and I also just like Sun Peaks.”
Not wanting his mental health to define or dictate his life Rouben, rebuilt his presence in the community and was open with his struggles along the way.
“You can easily see yourself being chased out of a small town when you show some vulnerability. It (staying) was really something I didn’t think was possible.
“If there’s one good thing that comes out of this…if someone gets help that would be worth it to me. I want to encourage people who have mental health issues there’s support right here in town.”
More than six months later, and a year since first moving to the mountain, Rouben has established himself as a fixture in the community.
On top of working full time at Mountain Tiger, he still has his eye on becoming a vet tech and is continuing to upgrade classes. This winter he also signed up to volunteer with Adaptive Sports Sun Peaks after seeing the work they do on the mountain.
“Thankfully I had the ticket scanning job or I would not have come across Adaptive,” he said. “These people have the impact that I’m craving to have. These people do something very significant on a weekly basis…I think I’m driven to do that.”
Training started in November and in mid-December he aced the course which will allow him to start working with students.
“One year later I’m really glad I’m still here. The privilege of living here is just fantastic…I’m happy to have the opportunity to work on myself here.”
He said being established as a local is something new for him.
“Community is a word I didn’t really understand before coming here. I’m not sure I expected to find it in such a small place either. It means you have a responsibility to contribute to the experience of others. It means you have the opportunity to take people under your wing…Someone’s got your back but you have to have someone’s back too. It also means getting out there and living the mountain life and an opportunity to elevate everyone’s experience.
“Being a local has given me a sense of connection.”
Looking back on his first year in Sun Peaks, Rouben said, has a lot of ups and downs.
He said who he is now, compared to when he arrived, is humble, more compassionate and less judgmental.
“And probably a better skier.”
Next up for the man who’s smiling face has become a fixture of the community?
“I’m getting a pet soon, a dog or a cat.”
A mental health worker is available through the Sun Peaks Community Health Centre.