Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oakes Starring for Canada's Paralympic Volleyball Team 13 Months after Accident

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Oakes Starring for Canada's Paralympic Volleyball Team 13 Months after Accident

Article excerpt

Oakes at Paralympics 13 months after accident


RIO DE JANEIRO - In the hours after the boating accident that nearly took her life, Jennifer Oakes posted a photo on Instagram.

She's standing on a rocky beach watching the sun go down. She captioned it, playfully: "Tb (throwback) to 2 legs."

The 18-year-old from Calgary is playing on Canada's sitting volleyball team at the Rio Paralympics just 13 months after her right leg was amputated below the knee.

And if some of the 781 people who liked her Instagram picture joked that it was "Too soon!" it's her "very healthy sense of humour," said her mom Kathy, that has helped her thrive in her new reality.

"She's always been a bit of a stubborn child, and now that tenacity is paying off," Kathy Oakes said. "She's got that tenacity, plus she's got a good outlook and positivity about her that's fantastic."

Oakes' light-hearted approach, she explained, was a way of putting others at ease.

"Kind of since the beginning, I thought I would have a good sense of humour about it so people were comfortable talking with me about it, because I was open about it," Oakes said. "And if they wanted to ask any questions, I was there to answer them."

Oakes was out boating last summer with friends when they hit a wave, and Oakes, who wasn't holding on, was pitched off the front and run over. The propeller missed her head and torso by inches.

She was flown by air ambulance to Calgary's Foothills Hospital, receiving two litres of blood en route.

That was Aug. 10. Just three days earlier in Toronto, Canada's Paralympic athletes -- including the sitting volleyball team -- had marched into the opening ceremonies of the Parapan Am Games.

Almost immediately, Oakes, a strong player at the high school, club, and provincial level, started thinking ahead.

"We were all super worried about her and mourning for her," said her older sister Sarah. "And then within three days, she was already talking about sports and talking about what she wanted to do, and we all knew she was going to do whatever she wanted to do. I think volleyball was just what she wanted to do."

While Oakes was still in hospital, the family watched and pulled for the sitting volleyball squad in Toronto.

"We were hoping they played well enough to make it to the Olympics, because in Jenn's mind, she was already starting to process and think about what direction she might be able to go," Kathy Oakes said.

Canada's coach Nicole Ban knew of Oakes and heard about the accident, and encouraged her to come out and practise with the team.

"As soon as she sat down she was able to do all the skills from the standing game very easily," Ban said. "But it was her movement, and her realizing that she was performing these skills very well, and at a high level that really allowed her to enjoy sitting down on the ground with her new body. …

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