Andrea Nelson taps into sport to recover from injury

Canadian Paralympic Committee

August 16, 2021

Para canoer set for Paralympic debut in Tokyo


Andrea Nelson knew she faced an upstream battle when she was paralyzed in a skydiving accident, but she started the recovery immediately.

Just three months after she was injured in 2017, Nelson – an avid sportswoman throughout her life – attended the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Paralympian Search event in Toronto to discover new sport opportunities. 

“At the end of the day life goes on,” said the 30-year-old from Markham, Ont. who trains out of Balmy Beach Canoe Club in Toronto. “Coming to terms with my disability and the fact there was a lot I wasn’t going to be able to do anymore was probably the biggest challenge.

“It kind of doesn’t happen overnight that you accept this.”

Sport was a big part of Nelson’s life growing up.

‘’I was always really athletic in school,’’ she said. “I played water polo in university on the varsity team. [After school] I wasn’t competitively doing sports. Just rock climbing, skiing, skydiving.’’

It was Canoe Kayak Ontario coach Ryan Blair who recommended that day at Paralympian Search in 2017 that she should take a stab at paddling. The sport of Para canoe had made its Paralympic debut just a year prior. 

And it turns out his observations were on course. 

In 2019, Nelson produced a great season with silver in the KL2 200-m and bronze in the KL2 500-m at the Pan Am Championships. At the world championships that same season she was fifth in the 200-m, which qualified the boat for Canada she will now be racing in at the Paralympic Games. 

While kayaking doesn’t present the same drama and thrills as such sports as skydiving or rock climbing, it was a perfect fit for Nelson, a postgrad York University student.

‘’I liked being on the water, I like being outdoors, that’s my style,’’ said Nelson, who also did return to sky diving about a year after her accident. ‘’Trying to find whatever makes you happy, even small moments at first, is where you’ve got to continue… and just have fun.’’

She is now just days away from hitting the start line in Tokyo. 

‘’When I started kayaking, I thought potentially this could be a calling if you work towards it,’’ she said. ‘’Going to such a big multisport event where there’s athletes from all different sports and being a part of Team Canada is going to be amazing.”

For more stories about Canada’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympians, visit

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