By Cindy Mallory
Shelley Gautier always wanted to go to the Olympics. She was a multi-sport athlete in hockey, soccer and a ranked mountain biker while she studied at U of T to become a physical therapist in the mid 1990’s. Although she continued in competitive sports after her graduation, her real dream became to work at the Olympics as a Physiotherapist. While working toward that goal, a life-altering event changed her path in 2001, an event that would force her to use all of her courage and strength to keep going and ultimately to continue on her quest to make it to the Olympics.
Shelley was mountain biking in Vermont, when she had an accident, crashing head-first and smashing her helmet. She woke up after being in a coma for six weeks, to find that the right side of her body was paralyzed. She had to relearn how to read and write, and as a right handed person, she also needed to learn how to do everything with her left hand. After several months in the hospital, Shelley began riding a recumbent trike. She had to relearn how to ride, and slowly built up to participating in the 50km Ride for Heart, her first of many. Meanwhile, she learned to sail and won several regattas between 2003 and 2007. A true fighting spirit, she refused to let her disability keep her from competing and living.
It was in 2008 that Shelley decided to try her hand at trike racing. She called the National Coach, and he put her in touch with the Quebec Cycling Federation (QCF) who loaned her a trike. It was broken down, but she was donated a frame and bought a conversion kit and finally the bike was ready to go in 2009. She began racing and just loved it. She had found a new passion! Her new goal became to be the first female trike rider to represent Canada in the 2012 Paralympics games in London.
Shelley is now the first female with an Ontario Cycling Association UCI race license. She has had a busy few months. She carried the Torch for the 2010 Paralympic Games in Quebec in February. In May she made the Canadian Paracycling team as a tricycle rider. Since then she has competed in several races, including the World Cup competitions in Spain in June, where she came in first in both her races, giving her points toward the Paralympic games, and allowing Canada to take more athletes in 2012. Her most recent race was in Baie Comeau, Quebec in August, where she won the World Championships in the Female Triker 1 Class.
Shelley always had a positive attitude, and believed that there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. She hopes to be a role model for disabled people, to show they can still choose to believe in themselves and to follow a dream. She encourages them to follow other interests, no matter how difficult it seems at first. “Find another way to follow your dreams” she says. “Volunteer in the field of your passion”. Shelley also wants other Physiotherapists to see just how much their patients can do.
When she isn’t training, Shelley volunteers and finds it to be a very rewarding experience. She is a teaching assistant, working in Medicine, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy and also speaks to high school students. She has also learned to paint since her accident.
Shelley’s next hurdle is to be named to Team Canada, and the decision will be made in the Fall. Shelley is an inspiration to everyone, and shows that any obstacle can be overcome, no matter how impossible it may seem. She reminds us there is always a way to fill one’s life with purpose and joy. We wish her much luck in her journey toward 2012 in London, and will update you on her progress along the way.