Athlete ‘invigorated’ by wheelchair sports

In 1976, Ken Kelly's life changed in an instant. Kelly was a teacher in northern Alberta when he was involved in a gun shot accident.

Victoria resident Ken Kelly sailed on the Canadian sailing team.

In 1976, Ken Kelly’s life changed in an instant.

Kelly was a teacher in northern Alberta when he was involved in a gun shot accident, which resulted in a bullet being lodged in his spine. He was paralyzed from the chest down.

“It’s pretty hard to imagine that your life could change in an instant like that,” said the now 72-year-old Victoria resident, who is trying to raise awareness this week about wheelchair sports.

After the accident, Kelly spent a year-and-a-half in denial. He convinced himself his paralysis was temporary and would eventually go away and he could go back to his normal life again. He worked hard to find a cure so he could walk again, even turning to holistic medicine to try and cure his paralysis. A once avid athlete, Kelly gave up sports.

The accident took a toll on his family life as well. A father to two young children, his wife left shortly after and Kelly moved back with his parents in Saskatoon.

But it was at a wheelchair sports annual general meeting that he stumbled upon that reinvigorated Kelly’s passion for sports and life.

At the meeting, a man shared his story of being paralyzed after a night of drinking while in northern Saskatchewan. The man said it was the best thing that ever happened to him, he got involved with wheelchair sports and turned his life around.

“It invigorated me to become more involved in sports,” Kelly said of the man’s story.

“It just got me into an environment where I met other people with the same sorts of life issues and realized that there was a lot more to life than I ever imagined there could be, just with friendships and optimism and looking forward to what could be accomplished with effort.”

Since then, Kelly has taken up a number of wheelchair sports, including basketball and tennis, and most recently, sailing.

After joining a disabled sailing association in B.C., he began racing competitively, even qualifying with the team that went to the Paralympic Games in 1996. As part of the Canadian sailing team, he also had the opportunity to travel to dozens of places including North America, Europe, China and Australia to compete over the past 20 years.

“With sailing, you interact with people of all disabilities and able-bodied people as well. It’s been the most rewarding of all the sports,” said Kelly, adding he enjoys the camaraderie between people on the boat and those he’s racing against.

“With sailing, you throw away your wheelchair and get in a boat and just go racing.”

This week marks the second annual OneAbility and ProMotion Week, which celebrates inclusive sport and physical activity in Victoria.

Hosted by the Victoria Wheelchair Sports Club and OneAbility, an organization that enhances adapted sport and physical activity landscape in Greater Victoria, the week included a number of drop-in sport demonstrations.

It’s an event that has become important to Kelly as a way of spreading the word about the affect sports can have on one’s life.

There are a variety of free drop-in programs that continue this week at various locations around Victoria, including wheelchair tennis, basketball, rugby, blind soccer and an exercise chair class. There will also be a ProMotion open house on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence (4371 Interurban Rd.) for those interested in learning more about adapted sport and physical activity. For more information visit oneability.ca.