Jennifer Oakes might have an artificial leg, but she still plays varsity volleyball.
Two years ago, Oakes lost her right leg below the knee after a boating accident, but it hasn’t stopped her from delivering inspirational speeches and competing at the highest levels of her sport. The 19-year-old Calgarian, who has since represented Canada in sitting volleyball at the Paralympic Games, is pursuing a career in physical therapy through studies at UBC Okanagan.
“I’m used to trying to push myself out of my comfort zone and sport was a huge part of my recovery. Athletes typically heal a lot faster than non-athletes,” says Oakes, who spoke at We Day Saskatoon this spring. “Through volleyball I was able to keep busy and not think about anything I couldn’t do and instead work toward small goals.”
Oakes plays on a custom prosthetic leg. As a libero, her responsibilities on the court are focused on free-ranging defence and passing in the back row. She’s constantly finding new ways to move on her prosthetic leg.
“All season long I’ve been working on the best movements for myself and trying to train my body fitness-wise to be strong and more stable,” says the Human Kinetics major. Oakes works out four times a week on top of team practices and says, as an amputee, she engages more muscles to move her prosthetic and needs to work harder than everyone else just to level the playing field.
Facing adversity has become part of Oakes’ reality since her accident in the summer of 2015.
She was enjoying an evening on the lake when, at the age of 17, she fell over the bow of the boat and had her right leg severed below the knee by the propeller. But just 14 months after the accident, as a testament to her perseverance, she was competing for the Canadian women’s sitting volleyball team at the Rio Paralympic Games.
Her remarkable recovery is a big reason why she wants to pursue a career in physical therapy.
“Especially with my accident, I had help from a lot of different physical therapists and they all played a huge part in my rehab. I want to be able to do that for other people,” says Oakes, who’s working hard to crack the starting lineup at UBCO this fall. Looking ahead there’s the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. Not bad for a young woman whose future looked so cloudy just two years ago.