I have been totally blind since birth. Before I came along, my family was very active in sports. My dad played hockey, football, ran track and road races, skated, skied, and curled. My mom walked, rode a bike, skated, and cross country skied. My brother was growing to love swimming and skiing. When I arrived, the family did not change their lifestyle and just expected me to do what everyone did. We had to adapt some activities slightly. We put rice in beach balls for ball games. When I was old enough and tall enough, we got a tandem bicycle. Family members would guide me while skating or running. They did buy me a tricycle and later a bike to ride. I never felt that I shouldn't be active. I am so grateful for that now.
When I was 10 years old, I started swimming competitively. My family supported this whole heartedly. My dad even invented a special tapper to tap me on the head when I reached the pool end so that I wouldn’t hit my head on the wall.
I became a paralympian at the age of 14. I won three paralympic swimming medals and continued to swim and compete throughout my teen aged years. The paralympic experience was amazing because I could represent my country, because I swam well and won medals, but most especially because I could meet people with all kinds of disabilities from all over the world who were living active and full lives. Those people have continued to encourage me to be active and living as actively as possible has always remained extremely important to me.
A few years ago, I wrecked one of my knees. I went from a person who hiked and walked extensively to someone who could barely move around my house. Physio therapy was difficult, exhausting and very painful. The easiest thing would have been to give up, to just sit in the house and let others do everything for me. But, I have a guide dog. I had a job. I had to work. My dog had to get exercise. I missed my active life. So, slowly and laboriously, I carried on. I had a lot of pain and little stamina. I could hardly walk a block at first. How could this be? I had always been in such good shape? But, what to do? Train, just like I trained all those years ago for the Paralympics. This training was even harder. But, gradually, I was able to ride an exercise bike for 5 minutes. Then 10. Then a half hour. Then an hour. I was able to walk one block, then two, then four, then for long walks again. I’m not an elite athlete anymore. But, I remain as active as I can. Living an active life has helped me stay healthy, meet wonderful people, grow many new interests, be out in the world, feel empowered and energetic. I recommend it to everyone. An active life does not necessarily mean being an elite athlete. It can mean walking to the store, swimming even 10 lengths, doing some gardening, or whatever you can do. Be out in the world. Be active. And for families of people with disabilities, encourage them to do whatever it is you do or whatever they can do.