On Saturday, dozens of people gathered in Saskatoon’s Civic Square for Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan‘s 19th annual Wheelchair Relay.
The relay race featured teams of four competing to see who could be first across the finish line.
This is the ninth relay for Kelsi Paul.
“I personally try to get better every single year. I’m a very competitive person and so my family and friends know if they’re going to be on the team with me that my competitive nature is going to come out. They know they have to bring their ‘A’ game, too,” she said.
Paul was born with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair her entire life. She keeps coming back to the relay for one reason.
“It’s very important to me for the awareness; it’s very important I participate in it every single year that I’m able to,” she said.
Awareness is one of the main goals for the event. The relay is open to everyone so people can learn about the challenges that people with spinal cord injuries may face.
“We’ve made it open to anybody to enter a team and so someone who is not in a wheelchair every day, trying it out, they can figure out that it’s not as easy as it looks. And then the mix of having someone who is an everyday wheelchair user, they can educate people,” said Launel Scott, executive director of Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan.
“It is majority able-bodied (people) that participate, which is good because then they can experience themselves what it’s like to be in a chair even if it’s just for a quick lap around. That’s difficult enough,” said Paul.
The snow was an added challenge, however it was used to further showcase the challenges experienced by those in wheelchairs.
“Adversity is what people with mobility challenges face on a daily basis. We never proceed based on the weatherman,” said Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan board president Bill Lehne.
For Paul, operating a wheelchair in the snow is nothing new but still presents a significant challenge.
“My chair gets stuck really easily in the snow so if it’s not shovelled, I can’t really get anywhere,” she said.
“I want people to be aware that for able-bodied, yes people still struggle with getting through snow and what not, but because we have to use the aid to help us get through we have that extra challenge.”
The event raised more than $15,000.
“Our organization assists people with spinal cord injuries or any other physical disability to reintegrate into the community, deal with maybe some of their health issues, family issues, community issues, jobs especially, education and employment. The money goes to helping our front-line workers meet with all of our clients; we have about 1,700 across the province,” said Scott.
“It’s just absolutely amazing that there is such a community effort here, the volunteers; it’s amazing. It’s quite admirable to see that kind of commitment to support Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan,” said Lehne.