Support network key to child with a disability’s positive sport experience

November 10, 2017

Make it possible for more Canadians with a disability to choose sport and to be active in their communities:

Stephanie Dixon, one of Canada’s greatest Paralympic athletes, spent her youth and teenage years highly self-conscious about her disability.

The Whitehorse resident was born missing her right leg and hip. She admits she felt mortified at times of people seeing her ‘’mis-shapen’’ body. She wouldn’t venture outdoors without her prosthetic leg. Even incredible success at the 2000 Paralympic Games didn’t change her self-perception.

There was only one place the Para swimming champion Dixon felt comfortable.

‘’ I was a very uncomfortable teenager with my disability but fine on the pool deck,’’ said Dixon, one of the most sought after spokesperson for the Paralympic movement and also a coach and personal trainer.

 ‘’It’s amazing that where I was wearing the least and my body was exposed the most I felt the best.’’

The reason the pool became a sanctuary was familiarity.

‘’At the pool I had my network that believed in me and supported me,’’ she said. ‘’They saw me as a whole person and the disability was set aside. I was comfortable to be myself.’’

Dixon believes the first step for a child with a disability to enjoy his or her sporting experience is to have that support network.

‘’You have to find your team,’’ she said.  ‘’No one succeeds standing alone. We are more powerful together. It can be your parents, teammates and coaches.

‘’I would even venture to say it is better to be involved in something where you have the support than something you love - if it ever it came down to that choice.

‘’Support is the key. People need to be there to believe in you, push you. That’s how we become successful and less self-conscious.’’

The idea of separating youngsters with a disability from able-bodied doesn’t particularly resonate with Dixon.

 ‘’Kids should do sport with other people in their community,’’ she said. ‘’Kids need to be with other kids and not feel they are separate or different.

 ‘’Kids with a disability should have access to a variety of sports and activities. My body was strong in all areas not just swimming.’’

Make it possible for more Canadians with a disability to choose sport and to be active in their communities:

Dixon collected 19 medals (including seven gold) in three Paralympic Games appearances (2000, 2004, 2008). She is a 10-time world champion and two-time Commonwealth Games medallist. She broke several world records and still holds the S9 200-m backstroke world mark.