Scott & Gregory Mortland’s Visit To Winnipeg
Scott and Gregory Mortland are from Carlsbad, California and were diehard fans of the San Diego Chargers before the team announced it would pull up stakes and move to Los Angeles this past winter. Scott, 57, is retired and his 21-year-old son, Gregory, is intellectually disabled.
The pair replaced their favourite football team with the Blue Bombers – read the full story here – and are so committed to their new club, they travelled to Winnipeg for last week’s game against Montreal.
What follows is Scott and Gregory’s account on their Excellent Bomber Adventure – written by Scott – during their stay…
Wednesday, July 26th
What a terrific day!
We were picked up by Michelle Lissel, Executive Assistant to Wade Miller, and taken to Investors Group Field so we could watch the Blue Bombers during their walk-thru practice. Having made a trip to the Bombers Team Store first thing that morning, Gregory and I were all set wearing our new “W” caps and “I Bleed Blue & Gold” T-shirts.
While the team practiced, I visited with Ed Tait and Michelle, learning even more about the league and the team. Once the practice concluded, the entire team came over to Gregory and I to welcome us to Winnipeg. Wow! I thought we might meet a couple of players, but never expected the whole group to approach us en masse! Gregory loved it, and of course, tried digging into all their pockets!
The guys were awesome, accepting Gregory and just rollin’ with his funny ways. We took some great photos and a video and then got to watch Matt Nichols during his press conference and had the pleasure of meeting Bob Irving. Gregory and I then headed back to our hotel to change into appropriate clothes to meet Mayor Brian Bowman.
Obviously, Gregory had no idea who he was meeting, but I was certainly moved by the fact that Mayor Bowman would find a half hour in his day to welcome us to Winnipeg. He presented us with a gift that was most appreciated. Got a great photo of the two of them, too, that the Mayor proudly posted on Twitter. Of course!
— Mayor Brian Bowman (@Mayor_Bowman) July 26, 2017
Thursday, July 27th
Wow! Where to begin…?
This was a day like no other, starting with having to set the alarm (yep, on vacation!) to ensure we got to the Global News studio by 7:00am with our interview scheduled for 7:20am. We were enthusiastically welcomed by Shannon Cuciz, the host of the morning show, who immediately got us situated on the set. We chatted for a few minutes before we were quickly preparing to go live. Though not what you would first want to happen, Gregory did have a couple of behaviours during the interview. Looking at the video now, I definitely think it helped tell our story.
Indeed, Gregory loves doing what we do. I’m certain of that, but every situation is not going to go perfectly. The folks here in Winnipeg were given a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes. Overall, the interview was terrific and I was honoured to be asked.
Then we got ourselves from Global over to CJOB where we were to have our second interview of the day with Hal Anderson. I was sensing some frustration from Gregory, but figured we would have the same good fortune as had been the case earlier. Not so, we were warmly greeted by Hal and sat down for round number 2. But after a couple of questions, Gregory simply decided it was time to leave. Hal handled it like a champ and I had to excuse myself.
I felt badly, but now he and his team understood. What truly saved the day is what came next… a nap! Luckily we had time to go back to the hotel and Gregory listened to his body and laid down, eventually falling asleep. He wanted to watch TV, so he did that restfully for about a good half hour before closing his eyes.
After a very mellow late morning, I woke Gregory to get him dressed for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, he had wet during his nap, so I had to undress him out of his Blue Bomber jersey. Luckily the ‘I Bleed Blue & Gold’ T-shirt from the prior day was still clean.
Greg Mackling and his team, Bubba and Jessica, picked us up in the CJOB car and off we went. Seemingly intuitively, Greg drove through the beautiful neighborhoods of Winnipeg while we talked. Gregory is terrific in the car and it was a great way to get him back on track for the very busy day ahead.
We finally made it to our first stop, the Museum of Human Rights. The length of our visit was perfectly paced, as we kept moving, but I at least had a chance to see the exhibits that I will hopefully get to enjoy in the future, likely during a future visit. We got to see the contemplation gardens and then got to the top of the building, an area surrounded by glass allowing us to see all of Winnipeg. Beautiful!
Then we walked on over to a Winnipeg favourite, VJ’s, where we enjoyed a burger and fries. By this point, it was clear that Gregory loved Greg. Greg was very engaging, evidenced by Gregory’s constant smiling. This was a nice break before we headed back to our cars and on our way to our last stop, the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make this last stop, only because I was planning on taking Gregory on Friday. But given how well the day was going and the rapport between Gregory and the guys, I realized it would be an ideal last stop. We headed straight over to the awesome polar bear exhibit. We were so fortunate to get to see two of the bears right there at the window, one practically up to the glass. Just super!
We then went a few paces further and enjoyed the frolicking seals who were clearly showing off for all the patrons. Loved it. It was time to end the quick tour, so we walked to the CJOB car only to have Greg present us with an incredible surprise… white Bomber jerseys for Gregory and I, Matt Nichols for my boy and Clarence Denmark for me. Gotta admit, this gesture really choked me up. Just had to hug ‘em all!
Back to the hotel we went, giving Gregory and I a little time to chill and get ready for the game. We happily changed into our new jerseys and waited down in Hat Tricks, sipping on a couple of pops. It wasn’t long before I got the text that our ride was here. We walk outside and there was a black Lincoln town car ready to transport us to IGF. Thanks to the comfort of this car, Gregory knocked right out and napped again all the way to IGF. Another small key to having the terrific night that was in store for us.
We walked up the steps to Gate 2 and there was Bubba from CJOB all ready for us! Such service, we must say! We entered the stadium and were soon greeted by Hannah Pratt, Director of Community Relations, who told us she would meet us a bit later to get ready for the “Family of the Game” presentation.
We had a while to wait, so Gregory and I walked the concourse and then I eventually got him chicken strips and fries to satisfy his tummy… another key to making things work with Gregory. A highlight for Dad arrived at 6:15pm, when I had the privilege of being interviewed by Mr. Bob Irving during the pre-game radio show. That was so awesome! Gotta admit, I was on my game and enjoyed those 10 minutes beyond measure!
When the interview concluded, we were once again welcomed by Hannah who took us down to the field. It was great having Bubba from CJOB hanging with us, who just added another element of support if I needed it. He was terrific! Luckily, the long wait passed quickly and we got to take some great photos with Buzz and Boomer, the Blue Bombers mascots. They were awesome, though Buzz seemed to have issues focusing! Just kept moving around, sometimes away from where he needed to be! HaHa!
The presentation for the “Family of the Game” came next during which we were so warmly welcomed by the Blue Bomber fans all around us! I just couldn’t believe Gregory and I were in that moment. My mind quickly reflected on the fact that this all started with a simple email, including our photo wearing our new jerseys, to the Bomber Store. I’m still blown away by what has evolved from the simplest of acts.
Once the presentation concluded, we made our way to our seats in Section 113 and got ready to enjoy the game!
And what a game it was! OH MY!!!
The fact that Gregory made it to 10:30pm or so is a miracle in and of itself, but given that we were around to witness that EPIC comeback victory, one would think this was a story that just had to be scripted! Those two quick scores with that amazing on-side kick in the middle could not have for a more phenomenal end to our night at IGF!
The fans behind us knew who we were and clearly shared in the utter joy of that fantastic finish! Well, apparently TSN knew about Gregory’s and my story, so I quickly learned towards the game’s conclusion that we were being shown on TV! Via text and Facebook updates, I saw that our reactions of excitement were wonderfully captured!
Just adds to the incredible memories of this spectacular game! The same Lincoln town car awaited us as we made our way out of IGF. Gregory was asleep before you knew it and I was allowed 20 or 30 minutes to reflect on one of the best days of my life. What transpired in those 16 hours of July 27th (my Mom’s birthday) will be treasured forever!
Friday, July 28th
Gregory got up early, to my surprise, so it wasn’t long before we were off to our “regular” Starbucks on Roblin Blvd. The partners there have gotten to know us and were very sweet to Gregory. Just like back home. We then made our way to Glenn McWhinney Park, just to the north of town.
What a special experience came next! We were interviewed by Jordan Rogodzinski, who hosts his own monthly “Jordan 411 Sports Show”. Jordan has cerebral palsy, but that doesn’t hamper his passion for sports and his Winnipeg-based teams, the Blue Bombers and the Jets! Thanks to Chris Zacharko and Mike Neale, Jordan and I had a great time together and the result was stellar!
Gregory and I then made our way to the Assiniboine Zoo to spend a few hours as I had been promising him all trip. We got there later than I had hoped, so it was already getting quite warm. We ate lunch at the café situated behind the polar bear exhibit. Sure got a kick out of one of the bears that just laying out on the grass, sunning himself.
The back of the café is all glass, so it felt like we were all just hanging out together. A second one ended up appearing at the top of the hill to check things out. When we finished lunch, we went right in to the enclosed part of the exhibit and got to enjoy watching the seals show off again. They are funny.
But given the heat and his surely feeling quite tired, Gregory just decided he had enough, so we made our way back to the hotel. He took a long nap, two and a half hours, which he surely needed. Then it was time to wake Gregory and get dressed for the Canada Summer Games Opening Ceremony.
The front desk called a taxi for us and we were soon headed downtown to Bell MTS Place. We luckily timed it to where the ceremony started very shortly after we sat down. I got a little worried that we wouldn’t last long as Gregory was immediately giving me the “drive” sign meaning he want to get in the car, any car, and go. But once the parade of athletes started, there was enough going on to keep him interested.
The parade, of course, lasted a good while. Speakers followed, including Prime Minister Trudeau. There were great musical performances as well as cultural presentations made by those from the native communities. This all lead to the walking in of the Summer Games flag and the lighting of the torch. I can’t thank Evan Andrew, Director of Sponsorship and Marketing, enough for offering Gregory and I tickets to this most special event.
Saturday, July 29th
This was a wonderfully mellow day. We took our time during the morning, but ultimately made the two and a half hour drive to Kenora, Ontario. Several Winnipeg locals suggested we head out there, especially knowing Gregory enjoys car rides so much. We grabbed a late lunch at the Lake of the Woods Brewery and then walked down to the dock to board the MS Kenora.
We thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful hour and a half tour of the beautiful lake. We then got in the car and drove back, ending up at Original Joe’s for dinner. It was exactly the day we needed!
Sunday, July 30th
Gregory got up early as usual, around 6:30 a.m., but woke with a great disposition. Having plenty of time, I decided it was shave day, so Gregory got cleaned up and was looking fine when we left the hotel! It was meant to be, I suppose, as you’ll learn later.
You know where we stopped first…. Just had to go say “Hello!” to our new friends at Starbucks. We then filled the tank after using most of it during our trip to Kenora yesterday and then made our way to Assiniboine Park. We parked across the street (Portage Ave) and entered the beautiful city park.
Once we crossed the beautiful bridge over the river, I realized we could drive inside the park. So, after taking a number of photos, we went back to the car to enjoy it on wheels. It was already getting so hot and humid. We drove around the park and got several nice photos, many with Gregory in them. Some of our stops included the Duck Pond, the English Garden as well as the Sculpture Garden.
Again, Gregory loves car rides so this was a nice, relaxing way to start our day. My goal was to buy time until 11:00 a.m. when it was time for lunch. Well, that’s when things took a funny turn.
We were hoping to go to the Olympia Diner and have some gyro and spanikopita. My wife is Greek, so we love Greek food. We parked in the back, only to come around to the front of the restaurant and find it closed. To make things humorously worse, I discovered that I locked my keys in the car. I called to get help and walked Gregory over to Tim Horton’s having been quoted a 60-90 minute wait.
We had just ordered and sat down with our drinks when I got the call that the driver was at our vehicle. So…. I told the food team that we’d be right back and walked with Gregory back across the street to the car. This kind of chaos usually frustrates him, but I carried our drinks with us and I think that had him trusting we would return to eat once the car was opened. And of course, that’s exactly what happened.
During the middle of all this nonsense, I got a text that made my day! Greg from CJOB invited Gregory and I to join he and his family in celebrating his twin sons’ 11th birthday. How awesome is that! But before we were to go to the Mackling residence, Gregory and I made our way to the University of Winnipeg to join Mike Witty on CKUW 95.9 FM to join Mike on his afternoon show.
After playing a couple of tunes for his listeners, Mike and I reflected on the great Bombers victory of Thursday night and on how wonderful this trip had been for Gregory and I.
Navigating a set of stairs and three escalators and then making our way almost to Portage Ave, I see my rental car about to be towed away. Luckily, I got there in time to plead my way into having the car released so I could continue my day with my special needs son. A passerby and his son kindly intervened right away in their effort to help me get out of the situation.
$50 later, I was on my way to a joyous afternoon. Just before 4:30 p.m., Gregory and I arrived at the Mackling’s where we were warmly greeted by Greg’s family and friends. It was a wonderful three hours that found us telling stories, appreciating life’s opportunities and celebrating new and old friendships.
What touched me the most was everyone’s immediate acceptance of Gregory and their willingness to help make things comfortable. Both of Greg’s sons, Alexander and Brendan, were so kind to Gregory, Alexander being especially attentive. There is no doubt that Greg and Jackie are raising two terrific boys. They even made a point to thank Gregory personally upon opening their gifts, which included among other goodies, a box of Q-tips. They were already being subjected to Scotty’s sense of humour! And they loved it!
Monday, July 31st
Our usual start to the morning was followed by a real treat! Gregory and I drove back to the CJOB studio, as we were invited to do an interview with Shadoe Davis, this time in person, to conclude his morning show. No longer surprised by any of this, Shadoe pops out and gives me a hug and enthusiastically greets Gregory who is happily sitting next to his new Buddy! You know… Greg Mackling! Both he and Bubba hung out with Gregory while I was able to spend some terrific time with Shadoe. Gotta admit, I got choked up when Shadoe asked about the treatment Gregory and I have received during our time in Winnipeg. We visited for 20 minutes or so after the show and then we went on our way to Gregory a bite to eat.
The day is not over yet, but the plans are to head back over to the Bombers Store at IGF to get all the goods to take home to the rest of our family tomorrow. Tonight will find us at Shaw Park for some baseball where Team Manitoba will face Team Prince Edward Island in the Canada Summer Games. What a great way to end our trip!
On Friday, June 16th, I feared this father and son trip to Winnipeg would not happen.
For the first time ever, on a flight from El Paso to San Diego, I witnessed my son exhibit true and strong autistic behaviours. This included yelling, hitting his head with both hands at his ears, and striking the window. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Nothing close to this has ever happened before.
Since the spring, my wife and I had been noticing more aggressive behaviours from Gregory, especially in the afternoons. He was also “showing attitude” when being given his medication that he takes three times a day, the latter being the worst. This never used to happen.
When the episode on the 16th took place, I made an immediate call to Gregory’s psychiatrist to make an appointment. We discussed recent events, especially the flight home from west Texas. I told her about Gregory’s and my trip in late July and pleaded with her for a new medication that would help the two of us survive the flights to Winnipeg. I asked about Xanax and was told right away that it wasn’t an option, given the other two meds he’s already taking.
What she did suggest was a pill that is normally prescribed for people with seizures, but also has the capacity to calm those who are agitated or anxious. We think it’s making a difference.
Here’s the bottom line… I treasure these trips with Gregory. I’m able to do things that I love and I know, in his special way, Gregory thoroughly enjoys them, too. But his disabilities add a layer of stress over the whole experience. When someone is as intellectually challenged as Gregory, they only know how to react one way… 100%! So when those reactions are negative, things can get physical. I’ve been scratched countless times, and now Gregory even smacks me in the face.
The key to coping with reality is that you have to painfully realize, and truly believe, that none of this is his fault. His limitations aren’t of his own doing. Indeed, it’s hard to stay patient. Very hard. I’ve succumbed a few times to his behaviours and it isn’t pretty. I’m incredibly patient, but there are moments of weakness.
What we must hold onto as we deal with the current challenges, and those that may come next, is that terrific smile of his. He is loving. He longs to be happy. He adores other human beings. He has a sweet touch. But, he also has things going on physiologically that no one really fully understands. We’re all just doing our best to look at the present situation, especially behaviours, and mutually deciding what to do next.
Gregory is a special human being.People celebrate him for who he is. Everyone is his friend. He extends his hand to all. No one is a stranger.
He’s been in Winnipeg for a week now and has met so many wonderful people. This is a terrific city full of warmth. Gregory feels it and I certainly have as well. We have been blessed. There will never be enough thanks to all of you in Winnipeg for memories that will last a lifetime.