Tessa’s Amazing Journey Dec 20, 2007 - By Howard Tsumura - The Province It is because scars are always more than skin deep that Tessa Beauchamp ponders the question and wonders who she would be without hers.
“I don’t think I would understand as much about how life could be over in a second,” the 14-year-old burn survivor and star high school basketball player with Surrey’s Holy Cross Crusaders answers. “I don’t know if I would care for people as much as I do.”
Weeks before her third birthday in January of 1996, Beauchamp was badly burned in a horrific home accident when the nightie she was wearing ignited in flames while she sat in front of a gas fireplace.
She suffered third-degree burns to 20 per cent of her body as her mother Wendy worked furiously to put out the fire and older sister Amy called 911.
“I remember screaming, I remember when the firefighters put me on the stretcher,” Beauchamp says in a steady voice. “But most of it is from stories. I guess the material was highly flammable. I am lucky. I have scars but you can’t see them.”
What you can see is a rare equilibrium: An internal fire that has made the 5-foot-10 Grade 9 guard-forward one of the top players in B.C.’s graduating Class of 2011, balanced by a breadth of compassion and empathy for others that has given her perspective beyond her years.
And so much of that perspective has come from the time she spends with other survivors at the annual burn camps put on each summer by the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund.
“It has been a great experience to see all those kids,” says Beauchamp who has been a camp regular since the age of six and this past September was selected to represent B.C. at an international burn camp in Washington, D.C. “It is a lot harder for some of them because they are scarred from head to toe. But you realize it doesn’t matter what they look like because they’re all great people inside.”
And from that perspective, perhaps you could also say that burns are only skin deep because a person’s real beauty always lies just below the surface.
That’s Tessa’s mantra, and when she turns 18, she will become a junior counsellor at the camps because, as she says: “I love the little kids. I want to let them know that their burns can’t stop them from doing anything.”
Adds Tessa’s dad Steve who co-coaches both Tessa and Grade 12 Amy on the Holy Cross team: “Tessa has always been comfortable saying ‘Yeah, I was burned.’ But it was always more than that. It was never going to stop her. It was never going to be an excuse. It wasn’t going to change the way she felt about herself.”
Yet for Tessa – who wants to earn an NCAA Div. 1 basketball scholarship and who this summer made the B.C. Under-15 Development team one year ahead of schedule – the accident has profoundly affected the way she cares for others. It has made her a protector.
“I get nervous when the people I am with are around a fire or when they maybe want to do something not very smart,” she says, emotion welling in her voice. “If your friends don’t want to walk through a crosswalk, I just think 'Why wouldn’t you just walk 10 metres further and go through that crosswalk?’”
Adds Holy Cross co-coach Gianni Bittante: “A lot of times as parents, we might look to hide things, but Tessa’s parents never did. They sort of embraced it and said 'It’s okay. It’s who you are. Just continue to be who you are.’”
And that is a fighter with a caring spirit.
Some scars never fade. They’re not supposed to. Thankfully, they become the best part of who we are.