BC SCI Network Member, Paralympian, Accessibility Specialist
“When I had my accident in 1997, I was paired with SCI BC Peer Program Coordinator, MJ Fetterly—however, I had to wait a week or so to meet her, because she was camping. I thought, WOW! She’s camping! This was my first real eye-opener about life after injury,” says Sonja Gaudet, three-time Paralympic gold medalist in curling.
“When I met MJ, she showed me how to do all the little things you take for granted, like wheeling down the hallway with a cup of coffee! She was a perfect match. We were similar in age, injury level, we had similar interests, and both loved sports.”
“MJ and sports were two of the main reasons why my recovery was quick, and why I stayed out of the dark side,” she says, “They showed me that I could have an amazing life.” Sonja attributes BC Wheelchair Sports (BCWSA), and BC Wheelchair Basketball (BCWBS) as being instrumental in her rehabilitation.
“BCWSA allowed me to try out athletic chairs, tennis, and other sports. With BCWBS, I played and coached basketball, and even had the opportunity to take the junior team to the BC Winter Sports Games in Williams Lake,” she says. “Time and again, I’ve witnessed how The BC SCI Network contributes to pivotal moments in a person’s life. They provide people with incredible opportunities and resources.”
In 2003, while helping her hometown community of Vernon with an accessibility assessment at the local curling rink, Sonja found her sport. “When I started curling, I quickly realized that it was a sport I could do with friends and family. After this, it took on a life of its own,” she says, “It was a new sport, and they were looking for new athletes, so there was a lot of opportunity. I went from learning the game to regionals, provincials, nationals, and then, the Paralympics!” In 2020, Sonja received the honour of being recognized by the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame for her contributions in curling.
Off the ice, Sonja started working for SCI BC as Peer Program Coordinator, and realized that she needed help setting up her office. “The Neil Squire Society addressed ergonomic issues that I was having with my office. They gave me solutions and recommendations so I could do my work mentoring women in the Okanagan region.”
“What I learned after I was injured is that it doesn’t change who you are, it changes how you do things,” she says. It’s a philosophy that Sonja uses in life, and in her role as a peer mentor. “Recently, a newly injured young woman and her family spent an afternoon at home with me. They saw me wheeling about freely and doing small things that you don’t learn in rehab. The kind of things, if you don’t learn, can stop you from being independent. A light went on for them—it was a wonderful moment.”
In 2018, Sonja accepted a new position at the Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association (TOTA) and turned to the Neil Squire Society again. “After 14 years of throwing rocks in the curling rink, I found that putting my chair in my van was taking a toll on my shoulder. They helped me get a lift and a transfer seat,” Sonja explains. “My role as Regional Accessibility Specialist for TOTA requires a lot of travel and this assistance was instrumental in helping me stay in the workforce.”
“With an injury, there’s going to be huge changes, but life does carry on,” says Sonja. “When I introduce people to the BC SCI Network, I know their social circles will broaden, they’ll have access to assistance, and they’ll experience opportunities that can change their lives. Everything, from the big, exciting things like sports, to the small, subtle things that can transform your day-to-day life.”