Athletics: Stef Reid finds strength to jump to her silver lining
As Stef Reid emerged from the long jump pit after her sixth and last attempt in the F42/44 final yesterday, the emotions swirled in her head. She was already guaranteed the silver medal, thanks to a 5.28m effort in the third round, but a final jump of 4.96m was not going to be enough to wrest the gold from Kelly Cartwright of Australia.
"I have to admit I walked away and I was disappointed," the New Zealand-born, Canada-raised British athlete confessed. "I just looked at some of the kids in the crowd and the idea of legacy and inspiring a generation kind of hit me. What happens when you give something your all and you don't get the gold medal? What happens then?
"The truth is there is something really special about giving your best in a situation and that is what I did. It feels great regardless. You are not going to walk away disappointed."
Like the other 4,199 athletes at the 2012 Paralympics, Reid has a keen sense of perspective. In the aftermath of her competition yesterday, the 27-year-old – whose father hails from Glasgow and mother from Darlington – could not help reflecting on the fateful day in 2000 when she got caught underneath the propeller of a speedboat on a lake north of Toronto.
"I was just about to turn 16 when the accident happened," she said. "It wasn't good. We were in the middle of nowhere, a good two or three hours away from the nearest hospital. When they pulled me back on the boat, you could see it in everyone's face: this is not good; there is too much blood.
"I remember lying in the ambulance and eventually they took me to a local clinic. I remember being furious with the doctor because he sent my parents in and I knew what he was doing – he sent them in to say goodbye because nobody thought I would ever make it. Just lying there really puts everything into perspective for you. I realised, even as a 15-year-old, that my life had been quite shallow.
"On the other hand, it was such a gift and I remember praying in that ambulance, 'Please! Please! I just want a second chance. I am not ready. I still have more life to live. I can do better.' It ended up being an amazing gift to realise what really mattered in life. It really changed me as a person."
It was thanks to the skill of Canada's leading orthopaedic surgeon that Reid survived her accident. The fact she had to have her right leg amputated from the ankle down, though, left her in a bitter state initially.
"I was snapping at people and just so angry," she recalled. "I was in hospital seven days after the accident and this nurse called Claudette walked into my room and witnessed the bitterness in my behaviour.
"The next thing I knew she just slammed down my breakfast tray and looked me in the eye and said, 'Stefanie, that is enough. You need to suck it up and start smiling because your family is devastated. Do you know, there's a 12 year-old girl in the ward below you who lost both of her feet and she can still smile. What is your problem?'
"She read me just right. She really shocked me. She sparked me into thinking, 'I'm going to cope better than this 12-year-old.' And that translated into, 'I'm going to I'm going to walk better than this 12-year-old.'
"She just reminded me that even though I had lost a foot I hadn't lost who I was."
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