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Sport and the art of moving forward

(By Chantal Laframboise Fox, Canadian Heritage, Western Region)

After beating cancer twice in less than five years, my mother contracted MRSA while in the hospital for what was supposed to be an overnight surgery. Instead, she ended up in hospital for 85 days, spanning three institutions, most of which was spent in isolation. There were weeks when she had no colour in her face and we nearly lost her twice. In a last-ditch effort to get the MRSA out of her body, her doctors concluded they had to remove her artificial hip. Due to the style of her artificial appliance, this meant the top half of her left femur would be removed, as well.

(Photo by Chantal Laframboise Fox)

(Photo by Chantal Laframboise Fox)

We got her home in time for Christmas that year. She had lost half of her hair, had a 24-hour vancomycin drip in her arm (that required a nurse to visit her home every other day) and was now in a wheelchair. But she was still with us and she was finally home.

My mother was weary but fought to stay positive. In moments when the tears came, she admitted what disappointed her most was that she had always hoped to take up dancing once she retired. A big part of her recovery was going to be learning how to navigate and adjust to this new life and its challenges. She was 65.

Once she had the energy to get out of the house, my mother discovered a Senior Center near her home. Among other things, she decided to take up wood carving for the first time and enjoyed the weekly outings. Serendipitously, one of the gents in her woodcarving group was a Caller for a wheelchair square dancing troupe and invited her to come give it a try.

She found herself doing something she never thought she would do again – she was dancing! Not only did she participate in weekly practices, the group did public demos and even travelled across the county for a dance festival where they were very well received. More importantly, the group provided her with the opportunity to meet people who had had to face similar challenges and through this she felt encouraged.

It was a teammate in her troupe that informed my mother of the The Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement at the University of Alberta and suggested she get on the waiting list for their programming. My mother, now in her late 60s, started joining others in a swimming program once a week and then was accepted in the Circuit Training program in the gym where she began to work on her strength, balance and self-confidence.

It was through a new friendship at the The Steadward Centre that my mother discovered wheelchair curling. Her love for the game and the community was instant. The comradery. The support. The focus on abilities. The competition. The fun. She played with enthusiasm and advanced quickly on her team.

These days my mother is always on-the-go. I love hearing about her adventures. She regularly plays in tournaments and bonspiels and she’s at the rink multiple times a week. She’s been invited to be back-up for other teams, she’s taken part in two international wheelchair curling events, she’s competed against teams of non-wheelchair athletes and she plays in the Wheelchair Curling Provincials every year. She went on a road trip this past summer to play doubles in Calgary and her paraplegic curling partner drove.

Yes, MRSA changed her life forever. Yes, there are things that are challenging for her now but this is a tale about abilities. Sport has helped my mother shine. She is a valuable member of a team, she flexes her leadership muscles, she has embraced new opportunities, travelled, met wonderful people, made great friends and has a sense of purpose. She motivates others and is motivated in return. Most importantly, she has a great time doing it.

My mother may have lost part of a bone and her ability to walk but she has not lost her spirit or her momentum.

(Photo by Chantal Laframboise Fox)

(Photo by Chantal Laframboise Fox)