Emily Weekes was a wrestler shooting for the Olympics until a bizarre training camp injury changed everything.
Two weeks before wrestling in the 2009 Canada Summer Games, the North Vancouver athlete suffered a life-changing injury on the mat.
“I dislocated my right elbow, separated my shoulder and suffered nerve damage from my neck down,” says Weekes. It was serious: surgery was required to fix tendons, reattach muscles and make the shoulder structurally sound. The nerve damage, though, was irreversible.
Her wrestling career was over, but her appetite for competition wasn’t. Refusing to consider her injury as a setback, Weekes turned to triathlon, training and racing with able-bodied athletes.
With support from many people in the para-world, Weekes got her bike modified so all the gears could be controlled from the left side and she learned to swim with one arm. Over her five-year triathlon career, she raced for Canada in the 2011 ITU Long Distance Championships in Las Vegas and completed three Ironman races, including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
“I do well as an underdog,” says Weekes, 24. “Adversity drives me.”
By spring 2014, Weekes’ injury had degraded further and her right arm was functioning at only 25 per cent. While taking time off cycling, she was approached by the Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Club and was asked to try the sport.
“I was pumped,” says Weekes. “I’d never been approached by someone outside of my sport. It was really exciting to know that my athletic abilities were recognized.”
Last fall, Weekes took on two entirely new challenges: putting on skis for the first time and competing for the first time as an official para-athlete. Both were challenges she tackled head on.
“I was skiing with an able-bodied team and had to figure out how to move my body through trial and error,” says Weekes. “I’d watch videos of the righthanded para-skiers, put it in the mirror and watch it that way to learn how they moved. The balance aspect was my biggest adjustment.”
Weekes first got on skis on Remembrance Day and raced the Canada Winter Games in January, where she took home three medals.
“I still don’t consider myself a para-athlete,” says Weekes. “I’m just a skier that’s skiing with one pole instead of two.”
Moving forward, Weekes plans on using triathlon as a form of cross training, but her major goals now revolve around skiing. The next step is training with the national cross country ski team, which would lead to racing in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Weekes is the picture of positivity, tenacity and determination. “If you keep trying and keep getting up, anything is possible.”