Leanne: Finding joy in sport as a wheelchair user

Living with a disability can be hard but it can also be beautiful, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Leanne received compensation from Coloplast to provide this information. Each person’s situation is unique so your experience may not be the same.

My name is Leanne Taylor. I was born in England and my family moved to Canada when I was 10, and I am now a proud Canadian living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I like to say that I am a Canadian by choice! I compete for Team Canada in Paratriathlon.

I was twenty-five when a cycling accident left me completely paralyzed from the waist down.

Following my spinal cord injury, I felt like I was surrounded by a cloud of sadness. People would enter my hospital room and burst into tears. I understood their need to grieve, but I did not want to be a source of sadness. I could not allow the story of my life to be a tragedy.

While lying in the ICU, I set my sights on the most important goal I have ever set in my life. I wanted to build a life that made me so happy that given the option, I would not go back and change a thing.

I refused to allow my disability to be the end of my happiness, so I set about finding ways to find joy in my life as a wheelchair user.

I started by considering what had brought me joy before I was injured, and the first thing that came to mind was sport. I asked the recreation therapist in the hospital whether there are any sports that were available to people who used wheelchairs. In response, she introduced me to parasport and along with it to an incredible community of hardworking, supportive, and resilient humans.

I quickly fell in love with paratriathlon. This is a sport in which wheelchair athletes swim 750 meters, handcycle 20kms, and hop in racing wheelchairs to “run” 5kms to finish it all off. To be honest, paratriathlon is huge logistical challenge for wheelchair users.

I found that the community of para-athletes that I was surrounded with were my most helpful allies. They had experienced many of the same problems and were empathetic and kind when offering solutions. They also knew when to laugh and make light of a situation. One of the many things that I learned about from the parasport community were catheters.

In addition to teaching me many skills and providing me with many tips and tricks, the parasport community provided me with disabled role models. I met doctors, mothers, project managers, and so many others who were living productive lives as wheelchair users. This allowed me to see, and really believe, that anything was possible for me.

One of the biggest challenges of living with a disability is that so many things are not designed for us. There are stairs when there could easily be ramps. Clothes are not designed to fit our unique bodies. Concert venues are built without adequate accessible seating.

When a fellow para-athlete introduced me to SpeediCath® catheters, I was so happy to see that they were designed with accessibility in mind. They are easy to use and so discreet.

My favourite product is the SpeediCath® Compact Female catheter because it comes pre-lubricated so I can use it right out to the package (no big bag of supplies required).

What’s more, Coloplast did not compromise on the small and discreet design that people expect when it comes to personal hygiene products.

If a friend reached into my makeup bag to borrow something, my catheters don’t stand out amongst cosmetic products.

I’m certainly not ashamed to use catheters, but I do appreciate that Coloplast prioritized the discreet design so that I can keep my personal products just that, personal.

When I was adapting to life as a wheelchair user, there were times that I felt alone. Like I had to deal with issues, like learning bladder management, with no one around who could understand what I was going through. This meant that when something went wrong, like a bladder leak, or a tumble out of my wheelchair, I felt isolated. But, after making other friends in the disabled community I was able to share these experiences with them. So now, instead of feeling sad and isolated, I can just call a friend and have a laugh about the same mishaps that would have made me cry several years ago.

I would like to remind anyone struggling that they are not the first person to have these issues, and they will not be the last. If you are feeling alone, I would encourage you to reach out to others in the disabled community, because together we can turn a moment that feels like a disaster into a really good laugh!

It has been five years since my injury. I am engaged, I work as a compliance officer for a pharmaceutical company, and I own a home. In September of 2024, I plan to represent Canada in the Paris Paralympics.

My life didn’t end with the spinal cord injury. My story isn’t a tragedy. Living with a disability can be hard but it can also be beautiful, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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