le Samedi 25 mars 2023
le Mercredi 8 mars 2023 13:48 Tribune-Express (Hawkesbury)

Joey Desjardins offers life lessons to students

World-class athlete Joey Desjardins returned to his alma mater March 2 for a talk with students in the kinesiology and physical education classes at Vankleek Collegiate Institute.  — supplied photo
World-class athlete Joey Desjardins returned to his alma mater March 2 for a talk with students in the kinesiology and physical education classes at Vankleek Collegiate Institute.
supplied photo
Paralympian Joey Desjardins rolled into Vankleek Collegiate institute for a meet-and-greet with students.

The champion athlete talked to students during a March 2 visit about the trials and tribulations he faced in his athletic career after an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and how he overcame that and other obstacles on his part to a World Cup title in paracycling. Desjardins’ talk followed after a video presentation of his World Cup podium finish.

“I still get goosebumps from watching that” he said.

Desjardins made a point of trying to answer every question put to him by students. He reminisced about his own days as a VCI student and encouraged his young audience to enjoy to the full their time at school because he remembers his VIC days as « great times, » including all the hours he spent in the automotive shop working on his dirt bike.

Talking about his accident, Desjardins told students that « you have to live with risks every day and that you must know what those risks are, and that they can affect a lot more people than you think. » He added that he was lucky to have the support system that he did to get through his early struggles, physically and emotionally, after the accident. His family, friends, and Vanessa, his girlfriend then who later became his wife, were all people that were affected by his injury.

« Sometimes we make decisions without always thinking about the other who may be affected by our choices, » Desjardins said. « We think that if I get hurt, break a leg, sprain a wrist, it will only affect me. We don’t always think about how more devastating injuries might affect others around us. »

Getting back on track

Many students assembled for the meeting with Desjardins looked thoughtful as he described who, after his accident, life for him became a history of « checking boxes ». Sitting up in bed by himself; check. Transferring himself from one place to another; check. Getting his driver’s licence; check.

Now, Desjardins noted, the boxes are becoming a lot more pleasant to check. Getting married, having children, travelling to different places, and setting high goals for himself in his cycling career are all boxes that he continues to check off.

After talking about his injury, Desjardins described the path that shaped his future athletic career. He was introduced to biking and a few other potential sports such as skiing, but he felt that biking was the best avenue for him. Leaving his wheelchair for his parabike gives him « a huge feeling of independence ».

He also observed that this is now the risk that he takes.

“Getting stuck with the bike, is a lot different than getting stuck with the chair, » he said. « I don’t want to be 40 kilometres from my house and get stuck with my bike.”

Desjardins brought two parabikes with him to show the students. He described the two bikes as “one for business”, indicating his racing bike, and “this one is my toy”, pointing to his new, battery-powered mountain bike.

He let students try his bikes and also demonstrated the ease with which he now manages either one.

 He talked about his experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he placed eighth in the road race and 11th in the time trials. He recalled it as « an unbelievable experience » and his sights are now set on competing in the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Desjardins wrapped up his talk with an outline of his training regimen and travel plans, including his upcoming roadwork training schedule. He intends to be wheeling along outdoors as soon as possible this spring, even if there is still some snow on the ground along his routes.

Meanwhile, Desjardins has a training camp in North Carolina to attend. He noted these training camp sessions are essential for athletes like him. During the winter he tries to do between 50 and 70 kilometres a day of cycling, either stationary or on an indoor track to maintain his physical condition.

For more information about Joey Desjardins and his accomplishments, follow the paralympic Team Canada link below. https://paralympic.ca/team-canada/joey-desjardins.