People of Georgian: Paralympian finds ‘pure happiness’ in sports despite setbacks

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The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we’re sharing them as part of an ongoing series.

People of Georgian: Meet Darda Sales

It all started when I was two years old, and I lost my right leg above the knee in a farm accident.

My therapeutic recreation specialist suggested swimming to me, and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the sport.

I got into swimming competitively when I was nine years old.

A person with brown hair and one leg, wearing a red shirt and sunglasses and black leggings, sits on a stool at the edge of a pool near a mountain range in the background.

When I went to my first swim meet, I was hooked. I also met two older swimmers at that meet who had been selected to represent Canada at the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Hearing them talk about all the amazing things they were going to get to do made me want to experience that one day, too.

So, I trained for thousands of hours over the next eight years.

Eventually I was selected to represent Canada at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. That year, my team won gold in the 4×100 m medley relay.

Winning gold felt like pure happiness, joy and exhilaration.

‘The pressure was huge’

By winning that first medal in 2000, Canada won the Paralympic swim meet by winning more gold medals than any other nation and we did so in the very last race of the meet. The pressure was huge so there was also a sense of relief.

At the following Paralympics in 2004 in Athens, Greece, our team won silver in the same event.

In 2010, I started getting pain in my left forearm that made it difficult to train at the level I needed to, and I was diagnosed with compartment syndrome.

Instead of giving up sports, I decided to focus on my wheelchair basketball skills.

Two photos superimposed together, showing the same athlete wearing a white swim cap and black goggles swimming across a pool, on the left, and in a wheelchair with brown hair in a ponytail, wearing a red jersey and black shorts and holding a basketball and looking up, on the right.

I had started playing wheelchair basketball for fun in 2009, and after I was no longer able to swim, I started focusing on developing my skills more and more on the hard court.  

My speed from the pool translated well onto the court, and in 2014 I was selected as a member of the national wheelchair basketball team.

I competed at the World Championships in 2014 and our team won gold. I also competed at the Paralympic Games in 2016, where we finished fifth.

A person with brown hair and one leg, wearing a red tank top and blank shorts and shoes, holds a basketball and sits in a wheelchair on a gym floor that reads "Rio 2016 Paralympic Games."

‘It’s like living a dream’

Standing on the podium is such an amazing honour. It’s like living in a dream.

As an elite athlete, you dream of that moment and when it finally happens it is so surreal. You just want time to stop so you can live in that moment for a while, yet it is over in a flash.

I’ve learned a lot about myself through sports, including that being mentally strong is the key to overcoming the obstacles that life throws at us. It is how we respond to the difficulties we face that truly matters.

Winning gold felt like pure happiness, joy and exhilaration.

Darda Sales, Paralympian

To anyone out there who doesn’t know if they can reach their own dream, I just want to tell them: Jump in!

There are no guarantees that you will succeed, but you will learn so much about yourself along the journey that regardless of the outcome it will be worth it.

Darda Sales, alumna from Georgian’s Therapeutic Recreation program (class of 2006), and Paralympian gold and silver medalist and World Champion swimmer and wheelchair basketball player.

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