When Rob Shaw was four or five years old, he became interested in sport. Maybe, he thinks now as a 29-year-old, he just wanted to be like his older brother.
“Since he was sporty, I wanted to be sporty too,” Rob says.
Sport wasn’t just something his brother did. It’s what kids around his hometown of North Bay, Ontario did.
“Like most Northern Ontario kids, you play everything you can. You have access to everything. Hockey, badminton, tennis, soccer, golf, frisbee – the whole scope of sport.”
Tennis became Rob’s sport of choice.
“It fit well with my high-energy needs,” he says. The fast pace of the game, the constant refreshing of points, the back-and-forth. It fit him well.
Coaching did, too. When Rob was 14 years old, he started coaching tennis to other kids at the local club. A couple of years later, Rob became certified as a wheelchair tennis coach. North Bay had just four wheelchairs that could be used for tennis, but the program proved to be popular in the small city.
“It’s interesting,” he says now. “I was familiar with the sport as an able-bodied individual before my injury.”
In 2011, at age 21, Rob sustained a spinal cord injury in an accident at his family’s swimming pool.
“I was just diving over the shallow end into the deep end. There’s a little tiny lip around the edge of the pool. My foot just caught that lip and changed my trajectory.”
Rob’s head glanced against the pool deck. His C5 and C6 vertebrae slid apart and then slid back together. He pinched his spinal cord, causing long-term paralysis.
Spinal cord injuries are “one of those pretty common injuries for males,” Rob says.
In Canada, about 86,000 people live with spinal cord injuries and there are about 4,300 new cases every year. Traumatic spinal cord injuries occur most commonly in males between the ages of 20 and 29.
Three months after his injury, Rob was already back on the court. It was important for him to get active again and continue his community involvement through sport.
“My community has been supporting me wherever my tennis journey takes me,” Rob says. “They spread the news of my triumphs in the local paper and online.”
There’s been a lot to report on lately. Rob made history in Lima, Peru at the 2019 Parapan American Games in August: he became the first Canadian tennis player – able-bodied or wheelchair – to win a multi-sport medal in singles.
People at home were watching.
“I feel like I have 51,000 fans in North Bay,” he says. "I do my best to make my city proud.”
You can help ensure athletes like Rob can access sport in Ontario.