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Ready, willing and able

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Doctors urged Sonya Smith to pull the plug after her son, Tony Grant, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident; Arissa Wilson didn't speak in full sentences before she was five. Both benefited from the range of therapeutic programmes in place at WindReach. They spoke with Lifestyle in advance of the United Nations' observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities tomorrow.

Tony Grant received a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident in 2010.

A year of rehabilitation helped to rebuild his body but his memory was spotty and his speech impaired.

It wasn't where he once was, but it was leaps ahead of the expectations of his mother, Sonya Smith.

Doctors had warned her he'd never do anything again.

“They told me he would be a vegetable and urged me to pull the plug,” she said. “I wouldn't.”

She wept tears of joy when a friend suggested WindReach might be able to help.

“There was nowhere to leave him during the day,” Ms Smith said. “I was bringing him to work with me. I felt like I might end up at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute because sometimes you just need a break. Without WindReach, I don't know where I'd be.”

The Warwick facility helps 200 clients with disabilities each week, through therapeutic riding, adaptive sports, gardening and other programmes.

Mr Grant, 27, does odd jobs at the facility and plays bocce and other sports said to benefit people with disabilities.

“He was a motocross rider before the accident but I never imagined he would ever play sports again,” Ms Smith said.

WindReach introduced him to archery, which is now his favourite sport.

“It's his passion now,” his mother said. “In fact, he has joined a community archery group that meets in St David's. He plans to compete in the Lancaster Archery Tournament in Pennsylvania next month.

“I cannot thank WindReach enough for all they have done for us.”

‘Go Dusty go' and ‘Stop Dusty stop' are simple phrases, but Arissa Wilson wasn't able to say them until she was 5.

Autism was diagnosed when she was 2, and she struggled with social interaction and communication.

Three years later, her parents signed her up for therapeutic riding at WindReach.

“She was terrified during her first lesson,” Mrs Wilson saod. “Today we can't get her off the horse. She loves riding so much.”

WindReach helped the eight-year-old to develop into a more confident and engaged child, she added.

She now believes that her daughter might one day become independent enough to train horses herself. In fact, she's improved so much that her mother plans to have the Paget Primary School student tested again, to see if she is still on the autism spectrum.

“She can really fight her own battles now,” she said. “WindReach has really helped her with her communication. She is very talented. With her love for animals, I definitely can see her succeeding in equestrian riding.”

Much has been written about Jessica Lewis.

She was born with diastematomyelia, a congenital disorder that split her spine and left her paralysed from the waist down. As a result, she's been in a wheelchair since she was 19 months old.

This year has been a great year for the 22-year-old, who's studying therapeutic recreation at Brock University. The Bermuda wheelchair sprinter won a gold medal in the 100-metre race at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto and a bronze racing the same distance at the Paralympics World Championships in Qatar.

She believes she wouldn't have achieved any of it without WindReach's help. She's been involved with the facility since she was 5, and hopes that one day she'll be able to run it.

“They really helped me accept who I am and my disability,” she said. “They have pushed me to do whatever I wanted to do. They are an incredible organisation and I can't say enough about them.”

She plans to extend her studies over a six-year period so she can continue to train and compete in wheelchair track racing, before she returns to the Island.

“I just love working with people,” she said. “I want to give back to WindReach as much as they have given to me. I want to see it grow and want to be a part of it.

“I fell in love with wheelchair racing the first time I tried it at 13. When I'm racing, I'm not really thinking anything but the race. When the gun goes off I focus on the finish line and that's it. When you cross the finish line, it's awesome.”

Snow is the bane of her existence right now although she's loving the wheelchair accessibility in Canada.

“All the doors have buttons to automatically open them, but I don't like the snow,” she said. “Sometimes I've had to dig myself and my wheelchair out of a snowbank. That isn't fun.”

Kelsie Simas's passion is helping others. It's a trait she hopes to pass on to others living with a disability.

The 22-year-old was born with spina bifida. Surgery fixed the hole in her spine but she has difficulty walking on her own.

“I want to be a good role model to young adults who are living with a disability,” said Ms Simas, who lives in the United States. “In Boston, I am involved with a programme for young women with spina bifida run by the Spina Bifida Association. I have been asked to speak at one of their functions twice in the last two years.

“I'd really like to work at the hospital where I was born.”

Her mother Marsha learnt about her daughter's disabilities when she was seven months pregnant. Ms Simas was born in Massachusetts, at Boston Children's Hospital.

She was educated in Bermuda, and got her first job working at WindReach while she was a teenager.

“I answered the phone for them,” she said. “Then I did reception work with them once or twice a week during the summer.”

In May, she graduated from a business certificate programme at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“I am living in an apartment in Boston and looking for a job,” she said.

She loves Boston because it is easy for her to get around.

For years she walked with difficulty, using a crutch or leg braces. After a pelvic injury she moved to a wheelchair full-time.

“It was easier,” she said. “The buses and trains are wheelchair accessible here. I can call a wheelchair-equipped taxi if I need to. I want to stay here rather than return home. At home I feel like I'm trapped and can't go anywhere.”

• Sixteen organisations working with people with cognitive and/or physical disabilities will celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities tomorrow. Among the planned events is an 11am walk with Ageing & Disability Services from the flagpole on Front Street to City Hall.

Thriving through sports: Tony Grant, who suffered a brain injury in a motorcycle accident, was introduced to archery by WindReach and it is now his favourite sport (Photograph supplied)
Golden girl: Jessica Lewis shows off the gold medal she won at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto this year (Photograph supplied)
Role model: Kelsie Simas, seen on horseback at WindReach, is passionate about helping other (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 02, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 01, 2015 at 9:53 pm)

Ready, willing and able

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