Sunday, 11 September 2016

Baring it all

This picture, along with an article, was published in last week's issue of The Citizen. I had been interviewed for the article the week before, but didn't know a picture would also be appearing. So when it came in the mailbox, it was a surprize and I cried. Ella exclaimed how much she love it, thought is was a great picture - and was so confued by my tears. Theo the same. I have spent the last few days thinking about my reaction.

First, the background.

In the spring I was approached by Marcie (the self proclaimed pin-up girl of Huron County) who came out to the farm to talk about a project she was working on. It was a fundraiser for the Huron County Women's Shelter and it was going to be a calendar. Her desire was to use the pin-up style (1920's to 1960's) as a theme and the models would be "Inspiring Women of Huron County". She wanted to know if I was interested in being a part of it. I agreed, thinking that it would be another way I could get my story and the #sharetheroad message out there. We talked about what kind of scene I would like, and how we could make it pin-up. We talked about how I filled my days - with therapy - and swimming became our focus.

I ordered a pin-up style bathing suit (my first amazon purchase ever) and asked Vanessa if we could use her pool. Marcie arranged for hair and makeup and the date for the photographer. I have never been dolled up like that before, nor have I had a professional take my pictures. Marcie had Big Band music to set the mood and we planned the shots starting with me in my wheelchair and then we worked our way into the pool. After a while, I got "into it" and had a lot of fun.

I have seen the hundreds of pictures taken that day, and I picked a few that I liked best. I didn't get to choose the fav for the calendar. So when I opened the paper and saw that picture - I was surprised. All the publicity shots had just been a head shot. Seeing all of me - my whole body - I was taken aback. My body is different than it used to be. My lack of abdominal muscles changes my shape immensely and I have not decided yet that I like it yet. My legs have very little muscle left in them, leaving them quite thin. So that full body shot reminded me of all this. I don't love this body. Yet here it is in the newspaper for all to see. Somehow that is different, being printed, then being on facebook. Printed seems more permanent (but we all know that is not true).

You are all thinking "she agreed to be in a calendar!" Yes, I knew I would be printed, but seeing it in real life was a shock. It also had to do, I think, with my wheelchair being in this picture. Marcie and I had talked about a shot like this way back at our first meeting. I wanted to include my chair in the pictures because it is a part of me now, I didn't want to hide it.

I guess that was the picture I was hoping for but, at the same time, not ready for. I'm still not ready to accept that new me.

In the end they didn't choose this picture for the calendar. Instead it is a different one altogether. It is just my face and upper body and there is no wheelchair in the background. It's a beautiful picture inspired by this:

If you want to see it, you'll have to get a calendar! I am the April Pin-Up girl - I'll come around to the idea soon.

Calendars can be purchased for $25 from the Maker's Market in Goderich or from Part II Bistro in Blyth. All proceeds go to the Huron County Women's Shelter. If you would like one, and are not in the area, let me know ( and I will get one to you somehow.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016


I write this on the eve of the opening ceremonies of the Rio Paralympics. This is significant because it means that tomorrow I continue my edification about all things parasport. I really knew very little about parasports before my paralysis, and it may be bold of me to say, but I think that unless you are directly connected with a coach or parathlete, I am guessing you know little, too. When I write my book "What you didn't know, want to ask, or wish you hadn't asked about Spinal Cord Injuries" this will be a whole chapter!

As a family we learned more about parasport on Labour Day when we listened to a special CBC program called Chasing Dreams. We were making lunch at the time (bacon and tomato and/or apple, toasted or not, with or without cheese) and it became clear that we all had questions we wanted answered (especially the kids) as we tried to listen and comment and question all at the same time. How many times have we said "listen and maybe they will tell you!" in our kids lives - Ella is learning this CBC radio listening skill (except when it come to Donald Trump), Oliver has a way to go yet.

What we heard were many tales of mostly (but not all) young people who came about having a disability early in life, yet pursued their sport regardless (and or recklessly as in the case of wheelchair rugby). I was particularly curious to hear the stories related to swimming and we had a good laugh about the possibility of me throwing a 3kg shot put (I had some difficulty with the egg toss at my Mother-in-law's birthday gathering two weeks ago - it was a gentle enough toss though, as the egg didn't break and my partner and I won the gold medal - let's just leave it at that.)

One swimmer talked about swimming "just without a hand", we learned how to "hit" in wheelchair rugby and about running and cycling with a visual impairment. Swimmers are all classified by the level of impairment (I think 11 different classes) which makes for a level playing field. Wheelchair basketball players can place the ball in their lap and push a maximum of twice before they have to pass or shoot the ball. All the athletes had stunning stories about what they had to overcome to become an athlete. Add to that what it takes to get to the Olympics.

One message really shone through all the stories. Parathletes are tough. And they are not at the Olympics just because they have a disability. They are there because they have made the same incredibly difficult - poured thousands of hours into their training, scraped together and fundraised for equipment and travel, find a job that works around their training, sleep anywhere - choice to represent their country. The same as any other Canadian Olympian. Except, they have a disability, that (as I am learning) also takes a tough-as-nails attitude.

Under the category of "stupid things that people say" (but as I have pointed out earlier - they didn't know) falls the comment that goes something like this: "Oh, Julie, you are going to be at the Paralympics someday!!" Now having said that, don't feel bad if this was you. You did not know that what you were saying was highly inaccurate and, at the time, it likely made me feel better anyway. Here is the analogy that Theo and I came up with: "Oh Julie, you have been training to do triathlons for two years and you came third in your age group at the Goderich Triathlon! You are going to be at the next Olympics!!" Said no one, ever.

So you see?

Anyway, I'm old.

I'm not saying that I am giving up on sport, I am just trying to manage some realistic expectations. In fact, just today we did some experimenting in the pool to see if taking off my water shoes (which protect my toes) made me go faster - which I think it did if you ignored my bobbing knees while I did my back crawl. How about another piece of evidence that my competitive spirit is not lost? I may have found myself a new sport. And I already won a gold medal thanks to Erin, the best biathlon shooting coach I have ever had :)