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(Posted 7:30 a.m., Jan. 25)
Aspiring paralympian an inspiration to us all

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Orléans para-athlete Kimberley Fawcett has managed to overcome the loss of her leg and the death of her son to become a world class athlete and an inspiration to the physically disabled and able-bodied alike. Fred Sherwin/Photo

At 43, Kimberley Fawcett is an athlete, a soldier and a world traveller. She's served twice in Afghanistan and has competed on the international stage in three world championships on three different continents. She also just happens to be an amputee.

Ironically and sadly, Cpt. Fawcett didn't lose her leg in combat. She lost it while stationed in Kingston in 2006. She was walking with her nine-month-old son Keiran when they were struck by a careless driver.

Cpt. Fawcett's pant leg got caught on the vehicle's front grill, and they were dragged underneath. When the car came to an abrupt stop, she was thrown forward into a concrete barrier.

After being rushed to the hospital, she was placed in an induced coma for four days. When the doctors revived her, she found out that her leg had been amputated just above the knee. But there was worse news to come, Keiran was thrown from her arms during the crash and was killed instantly.

Despite the horrific accident and the loss of her son, Cpt. Fawcett decided to honour him by learning how to walk and run and take the steps Kieran never got a chance to take.

"I figured I lost my leg because Kieran needed it more than I did," says Cpt. Fawcett, who is currently living in Orléans. "He was just learning to pull himself up to stand when the accident happened."

Cpt. Fawcett barely started rehab when her dreams and aspirations grew far beyond merely learning how to walk with a prosthesis. She was determined to get back to work as soon as possible and did so within six months. She left rehab after just two months and started working out with her husband Curtis, who is also in the military.

Having done several triathlons together before the accident, they decided to set a goal for Kimberley to compete in a para-triathlon with Curtis as her handler. The first time she competed was at the World Championships in Vancouver in June 2008.

"It didn't go very well. I had a terrible prosthesis that was poorly-fitted. It wasn't a good time," says Cpt. Fawcett.

Despite the difficulties she had to deal with in Vancouver, Cpt. Fawcett continued to compete with sub-par equip.m.ent that made each step extremely painful.

Her life change forever, however, when several of her fellow para-athletes told her about Eric Schaeffer who designs and manufactures competitive prothesis in New York through a company called A Step Ahead.

"He saved my life. There's no question he gave me a reason to live and to want to try harder," says Cpt. Fawcett.

Within weeks of being fitted with a set of new prothesis -- one for running and one for cycling -- her times started dropping dramatically. At the 2010 World Paratriathlon Championships in Budapest, she won a bronze medal, cutting her time in Vancouver by more than half.

This past summer she placed fourth at the World Championships in Beijing, finishing in a respectable time of 2.20:39 despite being thrown off her bike which likely cost her another bronze medal.

In the lead-up to the World Championships, Cpt. Fawcett took up sprinting with an eye on qualifying for the Paralympics this summer in London.

After a mere six weeks of training she set a new Canadian record in the 100 and 200-metres for single amputees above the knee.

During each competition, Cpt. Fawcett is accompanied by her husband Curtis, who is also an accomplished triathlete, and a picture of their son Kieran who has been with her every step of the way.

"Everything I do is in memory of him. When I came back from Budapest, I brought the medal to his grave and took a picture of it hanging on his grave marker. It was my way of celebrating it with him," says Cpt. Fawcett. "I can't tell you how many times he's been on my shoulder encouraging me to go on. If I didn't have that, I don't think I'd be able to keep going."

Although Cpt. Fawcett has her sights set on the Paralympics in London this summer, she has a more immediate goal waiting for her in Africa.

This weekend she will be boarding a plane with several fellow adventurers bound for Tanzania, where she plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for a new charity she has launched called the ParAthletes of Canada.

The goal of the organization is to provide athletes with physical disabilities, and especially female athletes, with the equip.m.ent they need to participate in their chosen sport on a competitive level.

"There are lots of programs out there aimed at introducing people with physical disabilities to sports, but nothing to help them take it to the next level," says Cpt. Fawcett.

Another motivating factor for the climb is to inspire other women with physical disabilities to do more; to set goals and achieve them.

"My goal, really, is to inspire people." says Cpt. Fawcett. "Dare to dream the extraordinary and amazing things will happen."

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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