Austin Smeenk

Bridging Gaps in My Mind's Eye

Having a disability does not mean you are unable to do things like play hockey, ride a bike, sail a boat, snow board, or have a teen business cutting grass or blowing snow. It just means that there needs to be an openness to trying and doing things differently. As an active person with a physical disability, I have learned through experience that a lot of my ability happens when I am able to bridge gaps in my mind’s eye.

I am 16 years old and live in Oakville, Ontario. I was born with hereditary spastic paraplegia. So, I walk differently. I have always loved sports and being active.

When I was younger, my Mom used to say: “can you just sit for a half an hour, to give us a break?” At the age of six, with help from my Mom, I built a fishing raft out of a baby crib rail and Styrofoam blocks. The raft was complete with my car booster as a seat, an anchor I made out of an apple juice can filled with cement, secured to the raft with an old clothes line. After a float test in my neighbour’s pool, we took it to Burlington Beach. While some kids were riding jet skis with their Dads, I was out floating with my fishing rod, proud as could be, talking to the jet skiers who stopped to gawk and chat.

As a child growing up with a physical disability, I have been lucky to meet special people who introduced me to different sports. In Grade 1, through Erin Oak, I was introduced to Track 3, Able Sail and The Cruisers Sports for the Physically Disabled programs. That is where I learned to snow board, sail a boat, play sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball, and compete in track using a high performance racing wheelchair.

And it is the sport of track that with the encouragement of others and through hard work, I have grown to love. In June 2012, at the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Track and Field Trials in Calgary, I bested the #1 ranked Canadian, winning a gold medal. Two weeks later in Windsor at the Boiling Point track meet, I beat the #1 ranked American, winning gold. In December, I was “carded” through Sport Canada's Athlete Assistance Program as a member of our national team. In essence, I am sponsored by our country to study and train full-time towards gold medals at the World Championships and at the 2016 Paralympics!

Being active and involved has made a big difference in my life. It has provided me with a sense of accomplishment, pride and belonging. It has taught me sportsmanship, discipline, goal setting and the value of training to reach a new best ever performance. Now as a member of Team Canada, I am learning a whole lot more about myself and what I can accomplish in my mind’s eye.