Canadian Paralympian shares his story with CIHR

Canadian Paralympian Patrice Dagenais talks about coping with a physical disability and the benefits of sport and exercise

September 13, 2015

Patrice Dagenais, current co-captain of the Canadian Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team, experienced a tragic accident 13 years ago that left him paralyzed from the chest down and in his fingers. In this video, Dagenais, recipient of a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and a gold medal at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, shares his story of how health advancements, engaging in sport and exercise, and keeping a positive mindset allowed him to cope with a medical crisis and prosper.

Transcript

Video - Canadian Paralympian shares his story - Interview with Patrice Dagenais

Mr. Patrice Dagenais
Co-Captain, Canadian Wheelchair Rugby Team

Mr. Patrice Dagenais: It was about 13 years ago in the summer of 2003 after completing my first year of college. I was working part-time for my dad's construction company, building residential houses, and that morning, I was on the second floor of the house.

So I ended up falling from the second floor to the basement. So landed on my back, my head. My head hit the floor and I fractured the sixth vertebrae in my neck and damaged my spinal cord. And since that day, I've become a quadriplegic.

I'm paralyzed from the chest down, pretty much. Even my arms and hands are affected, so I have strong shoulders and biceps, but my triceps are weak. My wrists are weak and I have pretty much no function in my fingers.

I went through some hard times, but at the same time, my spinal cord wasn't completely severed so it was still attached a little bit, just really badly bruised, so I still have some hope that I can maybe get some function back to walk again.

So it took me about, you know, a year-and-a-half to realize that there wasn't a possibility anymore, I would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. But I have a lot of questions that I ask myself: why is this happening to me?

I figured I was a pretty good guy, I didn't deserve this, but I was lucky to have a good family and good friends that support me along the way and after learning – after going to physio and seeing an occupational therapist, I was able to become more and more independent.

Photo credit: Kevin Bogetti-Smith/BC Wheelchair Sports

And after being invited a few times from the guys from the Ottawa Stingers team, the local team, and seeing the documentary Murderball, I realized that wheelchair rugby was a really intense sport and that it was a Paralympic sport so it gave me motivation to start training and I just developed a new passion for this sport.

At the beginning, for the first four years, I wasn't independent. I was – I needed a lot of help for a lot of things, but just playing wheelchair rugby, first I had to get stronger physically, whether it's going to the gym and working out and stuff, just to get stronger. And then I learned a lot from meeting guys that went through the same challenges as me.

They gave me tricks on how to get dressed in the morning, how to do transfers and stuff like that. So not only am I competing worldwide for my country and enjoying playing sports, it gave me so much more. It gave my independence back and I got to travel to 13, 14 countries just because of the sport.

Each time you do a workout, whether it's, you know, just going for a walk outside, going to the gym or playing a sport, you have a great sense of accomplishment after you're done and I think that's important for you to be in a better mood everyday.

And then you just add nutrition to it, having good nutrition. It will just – you'll be in better health and it will prevent having maybe future medical issues. And I think having – living a healthy lifestyle is a key element for a person to be happy.

Health research is really important. We all know that going through some kind of medical issue, whether it's mental or physical, is stressful and can be very difficult and it not only affects yourself, it affects your family and your friends.

So health research, it benefits everyone. It's important to know – to have the right – the proper equipment, the resources in place, the up-to-date facilities and you know when knowing and applying all the latest medical practices to best – to help best serve people that need it and to help save lives.

For me, personally, when I got injured and I knew I had a lot of challenges in front of me, I still had hope and, you know, my mind was at ease knowing that I was really well taken care of and my life was in good hands. And I think that was pivotal for my rehab.

We can't all be high-level athletes, but we can do, you know, as much as you can, I guess, during, you know, whether it's weekly or monthly. So even if it's just training twice a week, having any physical activity will improve your quality of life, will put you in a better mood.

And it might not always be easy, but you need to believe in yourself. When you're committing to change for the better, there might be some challenges along the way. But if you keep working hard, you be positive, I think at the end of the day, you will – you know, it will definitely pay off.

Thanks to the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association

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