Why I Volunteer: Mike Stiles 

This article was originally written by Dikshita Jain and Anya Naval of WorkSafeBC

Mike Stiles works as a Service Coordinator for WorkSafeBC, and promotes accessibility in his community through various volunteer initiatives. Of these initiatives is his role in the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s Fishing Forever Program. As the Co-Chair of Fishing Forever, Mike has spent an insurmountable amount of time and dedication towards making fishing accessible for those with disabilities. 

Mike Stiles (centre), his daughter (right), and a volunteer (left) catching a fish

In 1984, while training to be a horse racing jockey, WorkSafeBC’s service coordinator, Mike Stiles sustained a serious injury that changed the course of his life forever. A broken neck left Mike paralyzed from the chest down, with use of his arms but not of his hands. He was only 18 years old at the time. 

An accident of this magnitude would be life-changing for anyone, and Mike’s recovery led to profound repercussions that would inspire him both personally and professionally. 

“I was going through rehab at GF Strong, and feeling extremely disabled, when I saw an opportunity for a shooting demonstration,” says Mike. “I grew up in Alberta on a farm and used to do a lot of target practice as a kid. After the accident, I couldn’t use my hands, but I found that I could still pull the trigger with my knuckle. About one year after my injury, I registered for a turkey shoot at a local gun range, which involves various shooting competitions. The winner gets a turkey or ham.” 

“It was daunting; I wheeled up to the entry table and they were reluctant to take my money. Long story short, I won six straight matches — there was only one guy who came close. I left with a trunk full of turkeys and ham and a completely different outlook on life. It was a game changer.” 

Though humble about his athletic accomplishments, Mike would go on to compete at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona as a member of the Canadian National Para-Shooting team, as well as many other world competitions over a period of 12 years. He would also discover a passion for accessibility advocacy, something he has continued to pursue during his many years of community service and now through his career at WorkSafeBC. 

Following his accident, Mike became a client of WorkSafeBC. That experience, along with many years of volunteer work assisting those with an injury or disability transition back into the community, led him to employment as a service coordinator. He currently works as part of the Provincial Serious Injury Support Services team and is a member of the Abilities Inclusion Evolution employee resource group and the WorkSafeBC Accessibility Committee. 

Helping injured workers has been a tremendously impactful experience for Mike, whose own experiences have strengthened the connections he’s made. “It means so much to me to be able to help out in that way,” he says. “A lot of people who are injured need that connection. 

“Many injured workers are secluded and don’t know where to turn. Their families are there, and the doctors are there, therapists or whoever, but nobody is actually going through what they’re going through. I think I really have a unique connection in my role here to really identify with them and say, you know, ‘I know; I get it.'” 

In addition to his professional support, Mike has a long history of connecting with others in his community, particularly through outdoor activities. In many ways, it’s a reflection of his own rehabilitation journey, and he has been involved with a number of remarkable organizations supporting activities for people with disabilities, beginning with a club piloting lightweight airplanes (in which he partnered with former Vancouver mayor and fellow quadriplegic Sam Sullivan). He was one of the founding directors of three societies in the Disability Foundation, has been with the B.C. Mobility Opportunities Society for 35 years (where he is the current chair), and is a member of the Osoyoos Accessibility and Age-Friendly Advisory Committee and Accessible Okanagan, among others. 

Fishing Forever 

In 2012, Mike attended an event hosted by Fishing Forever, a volunteer program run by the BC Wildlife Federation that provides opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in recreational fishing. He summarizes his earliest volunteer experience with the organization as “a great opportunity to associate with peers and throw the hook in the water. It was great — just a good time.” 

Mike has been involved with the organization ever since and helped bring the program to his home of Osoyoos, where he’s now the co-chair of the Fishing Forever Committee and the annual Osoyoos Fishing Forever event. 

The organization emphasizes that disabilities shouldn’t hinder a person’s enjoyment of nature and strives to make the outdoors accessible to everyone. “I get so much out of it,” Mike says. “It’s such a rewarding activity for anybody that puts it on. I’m just honoured and humbled to have a small part in that.” 

Mike notes that the organization is always seeking volunteers to help with duties that include program outreach, fundraising, conservation projects, advocacy, education, event support, administrative work, providing lunches, and supporting people with disabilities during the events. 

If you are interested in getting involved with Fishing Forever in your area, check out the volunteer opportunities on the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s Fishing Forever page. 

Mike demonstrates how to set up a fishing rod as part of a Fishing Forever get-together.


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