Experiences in the Field of Adapted Physical Activity

As a Kinesiology graduate, I have often wondered why it was so difficult for me to become active while living with a disability. From the countless opportunities to be active in this country, why did it feel like such a feat? 

I grew up a super active kid, always privileged enough to be involved in some type of physical activity or sport. After an accident in 2013 that left me with a spinal cord injury, I quickly learned that I carried a lot of privilege. 

When I returned to High School, I no longer was participating in gym class, I was going to physical therapy. I no longer was part of a sports team, I was being asked to coach the younger athletes. When I applied to a job in the recreational field as a floor monitor, I was denied a job because I just couldn’t shovel the sidewalks at the gym. 

Not really questioning these experiences, I carried my way through university, continuously having to adapt courses, labs, and other extra-curricular experiences to be fully included. 

I am now learning, this isn’t uncommon. I had the resources and opportunities to be able to remove the barriers that existed and found a path within the field of physical activity and recreation. 

However, there were many times I doubted that I was in the wrong field, that perhaps, I didn’t belong.

But, as many people with disabilities do, I persevered and stuck with it. Because if it wasn’t me, who would?

It recently had me thinking, there aren’t a lot of others like me. 

I am grateful for all the exploration I was able to do. I was privileged to learn about movement every day and have opportunities to continuously explore and challenge new ways of moving. 

Not everyone has this opportunity. 

So, where are the personal trainers with disabilities? Where are the physiotherapists, gym teachers, or recreational leaders with disabilities? 

There aren’t many. If there was, perhaps I would have seen myself sooner to know that I was headed down the right path. Perhaps I wouldn’t have struggled to stay physically active after my accident. 

We all know there are barriers that exist to fully participate in physical activity but have we thought about the barriers that exist for people to be in leadership roles to help those like me see themselves? 

If you are an organization that serves people with disabilities, how many are in leadership roles? If you don’t have many, have you considered supporting them or providing mentorship opportunities for there to be a pathway?

If you are an individual who wants to seek these types of roles, reach out to ALACD’s youth engagement coordinator (tscyouth@ualberta.ca), so we can point you in the right direction.

Sometimes all it takes is asking the right questions, the right people, and being open about your abilities. 

Disability is and continues to be one of my most valuable tools I bring to the table in this field.

To find out more about advocating for yourself, books two and three are great resources to start: https://ala.ca/youth-ambassador-advocacy-kit 

In a follow-up to this post, I will further discuss the specific pathway I took and the steps I had to take to navigate both my kinesiology degree and my certifications with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology to be a Certified Personal Trainer. 

Do you have similar experiences that you want to share? Reach out to us. We would love to hear about them!


About Sierra Roth

As a wheelchair user, para-athlete, and Kinesiology graduate, Sierra has faced many challenges up to this point that has allowed her to learn the valuable lessons of perseverance, adaptability, and being present. Though she has had positive experiences in her educational background in Kinesiology, she hasn’t always had positive experiences with physical activity while living with a disability.

After sustaining a spinal cord at the T6 level during a motocross race at 16 years old, she was forced to rediscover her love for movement. While attending university, she began participating in wheelchair track and has recently transitioned to para-rowing where she hopes to pursue rowing at the highest level.

Her passion for movement in all forms stems from her own challenges with rediscovering movement in a wheelchair. She wasn’t properly taught how to workout from her wheelchair and was forced to find a way that worked for her in the small town she grew up in.

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