Joan Reid grew up in Fort St. James — a girl who liked bike riding in a hockey town. She wasn’t interested in sports and after a car accident in 1985 left her in a wheelchair, there were other things to think about.
“I never really considered myself an athlete but when I got back from Serbia, I felt like an athlete,” said Reid, 51, who qualified for the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the ASWx class in rowing. She won her final single-scull rowing race by 22 seconds at a qualifying event in Belgrade in May.
Rowing was originally a cross-training sport for Reid when she started cross-country skiing with the goal of competing in the 2010 Paralympic Games. She won a number of races, including two World Cup silvers.
“I tried downhill skiing with Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports with Randy Schellenberg. He’s great. He started a lot of adaptive sports in the area. Then I got into para-nordic skiing,” she said. “I think I would have made it for 2010 if I hadn’t broken my rib rowing but I just couldn’t get back to where I was.”
Then Bill Maloney, a cross-country ski coach, encouraged her with a training program and fitness trainer Cindy Garvin started to help her with exercises and she was inspired to try rowing again. The next step was to train with Rowing BC provincial coach Martin George at the Vernon Rowing and Paddling Centre on Swan Lake starting about a year ago.
She now rows with a unique prosthetic chest piece designed by Alan Blyt of Hagar Orthotics in Kelowna.
“This is the only one of its type in the world and it not only gives me support, but assists me to train long hours injury free,” said Reid, who qualified to continue on the road to London last summer in an Ontario time trial. She felt she wasn’t ready for the World Cup last year but trained all winter, including at a camp in Florida, and submitted her ergometer scores to Rowing Canada.
She is taking leave from her job as a church administrator in Enderby, where she lives, and her business, Cat-tale Cottages, rental cabins on Gardom Lake, to concentrate on training.
Her day starts at 6 a.m. when she gets up, has breakfast, does a few things around the house and is on Swan Lake by 8:30 a.m. six days a week. After that it’s a rest, something to eat and off to work in the gym with Gavin or on her bike on alternate days, followed by a nap. After supper, she tries to relax or do some office work.
“This stage of her training is intense. Joan’s got some really good technique. Her strength is going to take her a long way. She’s a joy to work with. I love working with adaptive athletes. It’s a challenging and rewarding thing for me to do,” said Gavin.
Reid will be competing Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and 2 at Dorney Course at Eton in one-kilometre races where her best time is five minutes and 58 seconds. She will be rowing in a 21-foot-log scull, just wide enough to sit in, loaned to her by Ireland. She brings her own seat, straps and oars.
Coach Martin George thinks Reid is well prepared.
“It’s an amazing result from someone who has come a long way in just a year. Joan has worked very hard to get to where she is and she showed with her performance at Belgrade that she wanted a sport at the Paralympic Games,” he said.
Reid took part in a regatta in Italy before competing in Belgrade, so she knows seven of the rowers she will be up against in London. She’s set to go to a training camp in Portugal in August. There’s no turning back now.
“It’s not just me. I can’t just take it easy. A lot of people are putting a lot of time and energy into me — my coaches and trainers and Go Row and Paddling, and Vernon Rowing and Paddling Centre for sponsoring me and the Enderby Lions Club for getting new rowing clothes for me. My friends at my Bible study group help with meals because I don’t like to cook and they give me a lot of emotional and spiritual support. So many people have helped along the way and I’m really grateful for that,” she said. “I still get nervous before a race but I’ve learned to handle it. I know what I have to do and I’m going to do it and I hope I can bring back a medal.”
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Paralymics Summer Games are the second largest sporting event in the world today, the first being the Olympic Games.
The creation of athletic games for people with disabilities goes back to the Second World War and a doctor in England, Ludwig Guttmann, who believed in using sports therapy to enhance the quality of life for people who were wounded during the war. He organized the 1948 international Wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. Since then, the games have grown to include events for athletes with a variety of disabilities.
The last Paralympics Summer Games were held in Beijing, China in 2008 with more than 4,000 athletes from 148 countries taking part. The first Paralympic Winter Games were held in Sweden in 1976.