Our SCI BC intern trades in her soccer cleats for a racquet and chair
We all face challenges in life; some even face those challenges every day. In my final semester in the Public Relations program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University it was time to choose a practicum and face a new challenge. My placement was with Spinal Cord Injury British Columbia, which was a completely new area to me.
In my month at SCI BC, I met people who were in wheelchairs and worked for the organization, heard about their experiences and stories, and gained a deeper knowledge and understanding of spinal cord injury. Finding out that SCI BC also provides athletic games and partners with BC Wheelchair Sports Association was especially cool, as I’ve been an athlete all my life. It was refreshing to know that there’s an organization out there helping people—and not just able-bodied people—to stay fit and engaged in sports in the community.
Growing up I was an active kid, the one playing outside in the yard with the rest of the neighbourhood kids. Running around playing tag, kick the can, hide and seek—you name it, I played it. I had a competitive edge in me that never faded. When it came to boys, all I wanted to do was beat them, show them girls can do what boys can do—but better. I won awards and challenged others whenever the opportunity arose, excelling in basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, soccer, and volleyball, and the list goes on. Some sports I found more entertaining than others, but where I truly shone was soccer: this is the place where it all started for me.
I began to play soccer when I was around eight years old and, of course, my father was my very first coach. Things weren’t easy with him yelling at me from the sidelines—“Come on Renae, get there!”—but I’m not going to lie, he made me the athlete I am today. He pushed me to go in hard to every tackle and take every chance I had to score. He believed in me and my ability to be great at any sport I played.
Soccer is a huge part of my life. It taught me leadership, patience, and respect. I have had my ups and downs with this sport: tears have been drawn, body parts bruised, muscles torn, trophies won, and game winning goals scored. When I step out on that field all stress is lifted off me and my head is there to win. The girls I have met over the years have been amazing teammates and lifelong friends.
After playing for 12 years, I eventually went on to play for Kwantlen’s varsity women’s team and experienced my first Nationals in Edmonton. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. Seeing the atmosphere and excitement in each of the team’s players—the music pumping through the walls of the change rooms and the players bursting out, ready to light up the field with their skills—made me love this sport even more. I will not forget the memories I’ve had over the years with all my teams and how I’ve grown as a person. Soccer is not just a sport—it’s my life.
I had never played sports in a wheelchair before, let alone sat in a wheelchair.
Not surprisingly, I always wanted to play professionally. I thought to myself how cool it would be to get paid to play a sport you love. (And, to always be in shape is a bonus.) It was the exhaustion and politics that turned me away: knowing you weren’t going to be playing certain games, and feeling the soreness burn through my body had me second guessing soccer as a profession. Still, I have continued to play on community teams to this day as something to do for fun. It takes persistence to become good at anything and, as an athlete, you need to hone that persistence. No matter how much difficulty you face, focus and determination are key to pushing through. Nothing comes easily, and only practice makes perfect.
The ability to keep pushing is something I came in contact with on March 18, when I got the chance to play wheelchair tennis at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, during a Tuesday afternoon sports session. I had never played sports in a wheelchair before, let alone sat in a wheelchair. Many people find it difficult to relate to someone with a disability, often because they have not had an interaction with anyone who is not able-bodied. Some people get uncomfortable and don’t know what can’t or should be said around these fellow citizens of our community.
Playing tennis with both in- and out-patients at GF Strong was a fun yet challenging experience. Being a competitive person, I found it hard to be outshined. The competition was diverse: there was one outstanding male on my team; on the other side, an equally talented young man played from a stretcher. I was scared, to be honest. Stepping into a game I have never played before and having no confidence was nerve wracking. When asked to play, my first response was, “No, I’ll just watch.” But that love of sports had me wanting to try. I chose my chair, grabbed a racket, and was ready to go.
The game became a challenge, one I was going to overcome. I felt awkwardness and discomfort while playing. Awkward, because I was new and didn’t know anyone, and had a wall up between myself and the rest of the participants. The discomfort was being in the chair; not knowing how to manoeuvre myself around. It took a couple of minutes to get used to the mobility.
Yet, overall it was a really fun afternoon game of wheelchair tennis. I have developed a new appreciation for people with wheelchairs. They strive to disable the barrier between what they can and can’t do (and what people think they can and can’t do) every day. The chair doesn’t restrict them, but gives them function and mobility.
It’s a huge talent to be able to excel in sports, and wheelchair sports are no different. I’m now open to playing wheelchair sports more often because, yes, able-bodied people play with people in wheelchairs all the time.
SCI BC is involved in providing active living opportunities for their members by organizing outdoor events and camping trips, and participating in the annual 5K Scotiabank Charity Challenge and weekly adaptive racquetball games. Along with providing these opportunities, the organization has access to well-equipped facilities and has staff on board to make your experience that much more enjoyable. This may have been just one game of tennis. But, for me, it was a perfect introduction to the way SCI BC is helping people with spinal cord injury thrive, adapt, and adjust in their post-injury lives.