Athlete inspires younger students to strive for greatness

November 17, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

It is perseverance and believing in what you can do that makes your dreams and ambitions come true, local athlete Sarah Gillies told an audience of some very enthusiastic students during a visit to Island Lake Public School in Orangeville.

The grade 10 Orangeville District Secondary School student was herself a student at Island Lake only two years ago and returned to share her story as a rising star in paralympic skiing and as a talented running athlete.

Sarah was recently awarded a prestigious FACE (Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence) grant by Petro-Canada and the Paralympic Committee. Grants are awarded to athletes – $5000 to the athlete and $5000 to their coach – who are deemed to have great potential to represent Canada at Olympic and Paralympic Games. Only 55 young athletes across the country received this honour.

Sarah was born with fibular hemimelia and became a right lower leg amputee at seven months old.

At 15, she already has two Canada Games medals in Alpine skiing and a OFSAA track and field record in the 800-metre ambulatory division.

Despite having a physical handicap, she has risen above the challenge of living life slightly different than others and has vigorously pursued an active and competitive lifestyle.

“It’s nice to come back and see the kids and the school. It brings back some nice memories,” Sarah said of the return to her old school.

Sarah started skiing when she was a toddler – just 18 months old when she first put on a pair of skis.

“I started racing in 2011 – I was nine years old at the Ontario Winter Games in a para-race. At that time I was too afraid to race able bodies kids at that point. I didn’t want to be too slow. The following year I decided to race at Mansfield and I decided to race with able bodied kids and I’ve been racing ever since.”

When she realized she could take part in competitive races she continued to advance as a ski racer.

“The racing splits into different paths. There’s a competitive league with the best girls in Ontario in the able bodied side and there’s more of a recreational side. I chose the more competitive side so I race with the best able bodied girls in Ontario. It was better training and a better racing experience for my goal to go to the Paralympics,” Sarah explained.

She told the young audience at Island Lake that when she was younger she always wore long pants even during the summer to hide her prosthetic leg, but a trip to Vancouver to a paralympic event changed her mind when she saw other athletes proudly wearing shorts with no effort to hide their prosthetics. She met other athletes with different disabilities.

“That showed me that just because I’m an amputee doesn’t mean I can’t accomplish what I want to accomplish because some of them were there with greater disabilities than I have and they are very successful and are really happy. With hard work, when you try something new you can accomplish what ever you want to,” Sarah told the students.

“My goal in the future is to ultimately compete in the Paralympics for Canada in ski racing and maybe running. My goal for right now is to inspire all of you to go out and try something new. If I had never tried something new and never tried ski racing I never would have had the confidence to do track or cross country running. I wouldn’t have had the confidence in myself and be as happy as I am today.”

Following her presentation Sarah answered questions from the children who enthusiastically lined up to ask about her career as a ski racer.

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