The world stage has always been Keely Shaw’s focus in one way or another.
For the Paralympic bronze medalist from Midale, Sask., Her first aspirations began on the hockey rink. (Midale is about 150 km southeast of Regina.)
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“(Hockey was) my first real love, really, growing up. It wasn’t too long in my minor hockey career that I said I wanted to go to the Olympics… and that’s where I focused for most of my childhood and teenage years, ”he said. Shaw said.
“And my first year midget, I made the AA hockey team, which in my mind was that first step. So I was hoping to try and make it to the AAA teams the following year and hopefully that would eventually lead to the varsity teams, all on that path to… the Olympics.
A horse injury while watching the elk her family raised on their farm in November 2009 shattered Shaw’s Olympic hockey dream.
“I didn’t have a saddle on my horse, which I had done a million times before. A lot of times I didn’t when I was doing a little ride like this and my horse decided he didn’t want to be there anymore so he left… and I hit the ground, I guess, exactly perfect – or imperfect, depending on how you look at it – anyway, ”recalls Shaw.
“I was rushed to Regina (General Hospital). We had a CT scan and it was confirmed that I had deep bleeding in my brain. They didn’t want to come in themselves to stop this beep because it was so deep in my brain… and luckily that beep stopped.
“When I woke up, I had a tube in my throat to breathe for me. I had a tube in my nose for food and I couldn’t move half of my body.
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With partial paralysis on his left side, Shaw returned to the hockey rink but admitted it wasn’t the same.
“It was my number one goal, but I still wasn’t the hockey player I once was and I will probably never come back with that player because, well, half of my body isn’t working very well. Shaw said.
“It was actually really frustrating and I didn’t like the sport anymore because I was constantly comparing myself to this player that I was.
“The amount of functions I have depends on the day to day… if I don’t have everything in my life in peak order, my body basically stops functioning. But I have about 60 to 70 percent of function in my leg and lower body.
Once classified for a para sport, she chose cycling while studying kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan.
“I love to do it… so I started training for cycling when I finished my undergraduate degree in 2016, I bought myself a real good bike as a graduation gift. In 2017 I competed in my first race in Moose Jaw and in March 2018 I was at the world championships, ”said Shaw.
Her persistence paid off when she landed in Japan to compete for a medal in the C4 Women’s Individual Pursuit at the Paralympic Games in August.
“I heard my name for bronze for Canada, and it was like my four years of racing bike… it’s like that big weight has been taken off my shoulders,” said Shaw.
“I opened my phone and it was flooded. And, at this point, it’s like 1am in Saskatchewan on a Tuesday night, everyone has to work the next day, but the number of people that have been awake to watch it… I can’t even express the feelings and the emotions that went through me.
“I think the whole southeast corner of the province was reaching out to me and watching this race and I don’t know if I’ll ever see this again and I’m so lucky that I got to be there and I have had the support that I did to support myself.
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Her medal turned out to be the only one won by a Saskatchewan athlete born and raised at the 2021 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“It means there will be a lot more visibility… (for) the sport of (para) cycling and knowing that you can be from Saskatchewan and perform on the world stage,” said Michelle Dezell, who is the director of high performance sport with the Canadian Sport Center Saskatchewan.
“But probably the best gift Keely gave us with that bronze medal was to open the medal wave… She was Team Canada’s first medalist. She knew she was in competition that first day and she really rose to the challenge.
“Traditionally (Saskatchewan) has almost had to book another plane to bring home the equipment from the games and this one was a little light.”
Saskatchewan’s performance at the Olympic and Paralympic Games compared to previous years
Dezell said there were eight Saskatchewan-born athletes at each of the international competitions this year.
“Overall, in fact, both teams did very well. We sent a lot of Olympic and Paralympic athletes for the first time. In fact, Nic Goncin of the wheelchair basketball team was the only returning athlete from Saskatchewan, ”said Dezell.
“The newbies have done really well and it just works under tough circumstances and many unique aspects that COVID has added to preparation and competition.
“Sometimes you need this introduction to the Olympic or Paralympic Games to prepare for your next games… You see what this special event is all about every four years and you’re good to go. “
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While Shaw pursues graduate studies via a doctorate, the 27-year-old is also looking for an upgrade at the upcoming Summer Paralympic Games in France.
“Concentrate a bit on school but our next world championships are in March, so there won’t be too much downtime before resuming it… The objective will be to go to Paris in 2024, hopefully bring the color to the level of this medal, ”she said.
“Saskatchewan has so many amazing athletes that it just happened to be my day and not theirs in Tokyo and I think when we go to Paris we’ll see a few more medals coming from Saskatchewan. “
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