She didn’t really understand what was happening.
Cindy Ouellet was a 12-year-old alpine skier and soccer player when doctors diagnosed her with bone cancer, radically altering the trajectory of her life. The following medical intervention cost her the use of her legs, and during her recovery she sank into a depression, devastated that she wouldn’t achieve her dream of becoming an Olympic athlete. Her parents took her to a physiotherapist who helped her clarify her life purpose again, and eventually she decided to take up wheelchair basketball.
“I talk a lot about ‘carpe diem’, about seizing the day and every opportunity you’re given,” Ouellet told Sport for Life, after agreeing to act as one of the emcees for the upcoming 2020 Sport for Life Canadian Summit.
“You can learn from every experience, whether it’s positive or negative, and it can make you a better person. Since my cancer that’s what I’ve been focusing on: moving forward.”
It’s that kind of resilience and perseverance that have propelled her to excel at two different Paralympic sports, competing all over the world in wheelchair basketball and para-nordic skiing. As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she also became intimately involved in the adapted CrossFit community for several years. Meanwhile she made her way through academia, culminating in her current work completing a PhD in biomedical engineering.
“I want to educate people and show them that our disabilities, our wheelchairs, they’re not going to stop us. At the end of the day, the wheelchair makes basketball more fun to watch. And I want people to understand that any sport can be adapted,” she said.
“The science has evolved so much in the past 10 years, even the wheelchairs and the different types of equipment we use are way better.”
Another way she believes the quality sport movement has improved is the area of inclusion, ensuring participants’ experiences are free of abuse and harassment. As a female athlete growing up, she was bullied in her school. She’s also openly gay, and has faced homophobia throughout her life. But all of that has only made her more resolute in championing culture change so that children aren’t introduced to these negative elements in the future.
“I’ve accepted who I am and I’m super comfortable in my own body, and with who I’ve chosen to be, so now I can share that. The key is to not let the things that happen to you define who you are.”
Ouellet is one of the many fascinating champions and leaders from the sport and physical literacy ecosystem who will be featuring at this year’s Summit, which has the theme of Celebrating Success. At the beginning of Francophone Day she will deliver her testimony as part of a workshop on addressing bullying and violence in sport. She will also serve as a conference emcee and will appear on an co-creation panel called Stories of Success.
To check out the program or register, visit sportforlifesummit.ca. For more information contact organizer Claudine Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.