From agony to excellence

Queen’s grad and Paralympian Stefanie Reid shares her story

Photo: 
Photo: 
Queen’s grad Stefanie Reid competed at the Beijing and London Paralympic Summer Games, winning a medal at both.
Queen’s grad Stefanie Reid competed at the Beijing and London Paralympic Summer Games, winning a medal at both.
Photo: 

Stefanie Reid nearly lost her life after a debilitating accident at age 16.

Struck by a propeller after falling from a moving speedboat, she almost died from blood loss. She was rushed three hours to the closest hospital for immediate surgery.

An amputation below her right knee saved her life, but any vision of her future was in shambles.

“When I first became an amputee, I wasn’t even convinced that I wanted to experience life that way,” Reid said.

“I’m thankful I survived, but at the same time, [I was] just so angry that my life dream had to be taken from me.”

That dream was to play international rugby but the accident forced her to take a new direction.

Eleven years later, she’s won medals in track and field at multiple Paralympic Games, breaking two world records this summer in London.

“Sometimes I think people look at me and go, ‘Oh gosh, it must be really easy being an amputee,’” she said. “I just think, ‘Well, yeah, it’s 12 years removed, it’s easy now.

“But you didn’t see those first three years.’”

***

Reid, who graduated from Queen’s in 2006, started training with the Gaels track and field team in 2002 — but her road to recovery began a week after her accident.

Lying in a hospital bed, she was despondent to the point that she refused to eat or shower. One morning, a nurse slammed down her breakfast tray and looked her in the eye.

“She said, ‘That is enough — I don’t care what you feel like, you need to suck it up and smile,’” Reid recalled.

The tough love sparked an abrupt attitude change.

“[I remember thinking] that I’m going to walk the best I can and then eventually I’m going to run the best I can.”

Equally adept in school as she was on the rugby pitch, Reid enrolled at Queen’s for biochemistry and life sciences in 2002 after receiving the prestigious Chancellor’s Scholarship.

Initially planning to go to medical school, her athletic endeavours were kick-started by a chance encounter.

“There was a girl on my floor who was on the track team — she was a hurdler,” Reid recalled. “[The team] used to train on the field just outside where I was staying and I happened to see one of their practices one night as I was walking home.”

Reid had never competed as a track athlete but she got in touch with sprints head coach Wayne Bulak, who invited her to train with the team.

“My speed was always my greatest asset on the rugby field, so I’d always been quite fast,” she said.

“I used to [ask], ‘I wonder how fast I still am?’”

Out of training for a year since her accident and forced to adjust to a new running prosthesis, she initially struggled to keep pace with her varsity teammates.

“The first year pretty much involved a lot of me puking after [practices],” she said. “I was basically doing a lot of the grunt work and getting back into shape.”

Her training efforts paid off in second-year, when improved health and speed allowed her to compete in her first intercollegiate meets.

***

In 2004, Reid embarked on a one-year exchange to the University of Windsor, determined to advance her burgeoning career.

“My parents were absolutely ready to kill me — how on earth can you leave Queen’s to go to Windsor?” she recalled. “I knew that if I wanted to run seriously, I needed to be at a place where we could sort out my running leg and my stride.”

The Windsor Lancers, winners of 24 national track and field championships since 1985, offered her the resources to excel. Windsor’s program is renowned for developing amputee runners.

The exchange paid dividends when Reid returned to Queen’s for her fourth-year — the first year she was fast enough to travel with the Gaels to away meets.

Shortly before graduating, Reid was invited to compete in the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in the Netherlands.

Pegged to participate in track events and the long jump, she worked tirelessly with Queen’s jumps coach Ted Farndon over the summer to get up to speed.

Just four years after her first Queen’s practice, Reid qualified for the finals in each of her events, placing sixth in the long jump. Having experienced her first brush of international success, she wanted more.

“I realized what the life of a competitive international athlete looks like,” she said. “It really is a dedication of your entire life.”

By 2007, she’d committed herself to that lifestyle. After spending eight months studying theology at Vancouver’s Regent College, she returned to Windsor to train full-time for the 2008 Paralympic Games.

“I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to give getting to Beijing my full effort,” she said.

***

One year later, Reid stood on the Paralympic podium, donning Canadian colours. She competed in three events in Beijing, winning a bronze medal in the 200m.

She fared even better in 2012, earning a silver medal in the long jump at the London Games. This time, she represented Great Britain — her parents’ homeland.

The decision to switch athletic allegiance in preparation for London was made for practical reasons, not personal ones.

“Any time a country hosts an Olympics and a Paralympics, they go out and invest in the infrastructure you need to develop a world-class program,” she said.

Competing for Great Britain also alleviated her equipment costs. Prosthetic legs cost approximately $10,000 each and she rotates between three that need to be replaced annually.

“It came down to the reality that I wasn’t in a position to fund myself,” she said. “If I was going to give up medical school and commit my life to this, I needed to know I was going to come out of it the best I could possibly be.”

Reid currently lives in Dallas with her husband, Canadian wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos. She’s earning a master’s degree in nutrition at Texas Woman’s University.

Driven by the pursuit of excellence, she passes on the lessons she’s learned as an amputee athlete.

To this day, she’s guided by a simple philosophy she adopted 11 years ago in a hospital room.

“Attitude determines everything,” she said. “We’re always going to get hit with choices that we can’t control.

“Things can always get better, and they will get better.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.