Joan Reid holds a poster photo from her earlier rowing days.

Rower returns to Fort St. James to visit and give thanks

Paralympic athlete Joan Reid returned to Fort St. James to visit family, not long after returning from London.

Joan Reid is a reluctant athlete.

“I went almost all the way to the 2010 Paralympics, and I didn’t feel like an athlete,” she said.

While she is humble about her achievements, Reid has just returned from the London Paralympics Games, which she managed to reach after only having 15 months to train.

Reid grew up in Fort St. James, a young woman her father said is the last of his children anyone thought would make the Olympics, and she did not participate in any competitive sports in school.

“I’m not a team sport person,” said Reid.

When she was in Fort, there were not a lot of individual sports for youth to get involved in competitively, and she enjoyed riding her bike for fun, but considered herself uncoordinated.

Yet, after a car accident in 1985 left her in a wheelchair, she became involved in sport, which helped to give her purpose.

Initially, Reid became more involved with cross-country skiing, and she had aimed to make the 2010 Paralympics as a skier, however a rowing injury in 2007 at the World Cup ended her training and her drive to pursue this goal.

“My head was not in the game anymore,” said Reid.

The broken rib was a result of the strap paralympic athletes in Arms and Shoulders rowing must wear. The strap helps to balance the rowers and can help to equalize the different types of disabilities by isolating the lower body to some degree.

However, the strap puts incredible pressure on the ribs while rowing hard, and Reid said those types of injuries are not uncommon.

For some reason, Reid became disenchanted with racing after her injury, and she began to turn away from sport in general.

“I swore I was never going to get back into it,” she said.

But after a persistent trainer kept encouraging her to come out for an upper body spin class, she conceded and gave the class a shot.

The class was a bit of a revelation for Reid, who said she once again felt the endorphin rush of a workout and the next day she called her coach and asked if she could come back and try again.

She also had the help of a custom-designed strap to avoid a re-injury of her ribs, made for her by a prosthetics specialist in Kelowna.

While only 15 months before the games, Reid worked hard to meet the time goals in order to reach the qualifiers, and she was sent to Serbia in May 2012 for the last qualifiers before London.

On the way, she went to Italy, where she had the chance to row against some who had already qualified for the 2012 games, and while she didn’t beat them, she said she held her own, and it gave her confidence a boost before competing in Serbia.

She placed first in the races in Serbia, securing her a spot in the London games.

On Aug. 13, Reid then went to Portugal to train before the games, having been invited by the Irish team to train with them there.

While the Paralympics are competitive, Reid said athletes can still socialize together.

“It’s friendlier (than the Olympics) … but at the end of the day, you still want to beat them,” she said.

On Aug. 23, she arrived in London, and was there for a week experiencing the modern security of the games, with sealed buses carefully inspected by dogs and guards before being allowed back into the athlete’s village.

Her brother Ken Reid and her nieces Marti and Hannah Wiltse then arrived in London to watch, arriving the day of her first heat.

“It definitely made it all worthwhile having them there,” said Reid, who was overjoyed with their enthusiasm and support.

With a goal of making the “A” final in her Arms and Shoulders Women’s Single division, Reid achieved her goal, and she had some good races along the way, beating her previous times in every race.

Her first race was her best, beating her personal best by a full 13 seconds, and racing hard to secure third place, in close competition with the rower from Korea.

“It was a really fun race,” said Reid.

The next day she was second in her heat, but in the final medal races on the last day, she did not have any energy, and didn’t make the podium.

However, the experience was something she will always remember, with the noise of the crowd and especially hearing her family cheering her on.

After the final, her nieces awarded her their own Cadbury’s medals for her achievements in their own awards ceremony.

Even getting to the games took everything she had, training everyday for two to three hours, twice a day.

“It’s pretty much all you can focus on,” she said.

Reid had to quit her job and hire a manager for her business, “Cat-tale Cottages” in Enderby,  but she said there are great benefits to offset the hard work.

“I got to a lot of places in the world,” she said.

She said the emotional and spiritual growth she achieved through sport is probably what she will remember the most from her experience, especially because of her family being there as well, and seeing the games through her nieces’ eyes.

She returned to Fort to visit family and to give thanks to all the support she received from the Fort St. James community while at the games.

While Reid said she is probably too old to try again, she will not be leaving sport entirely, and is motivated this time to stay in shape.

It’s more important when you are disabled to maintain health and purpose, because disabilities can be so limiting, said Reid.

“Sport will give you a purpose,” she said.

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