By Tina Comeau
When Ryan Shay started preparing for a wheelchair racing event in Switzerland, it seemed so far away – both in time and distance.
This coming week, however, the 20-year-old from Yarmouth will be in Switzerland, both training and competing at one of the biggest wheelchair competitions in the world. He leaves for Switzerland on Monday, May 12.
Shay is hoping to post some personal best times while in Switzerland, as the times he posts will be considered official times when it comes to qualifying for future meets.
He also hopes that every day of training, and every race he pushes in, will help him to achieve his ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
It’s been a year and a half since an automobile accident rendered Shay – a former AAA hockey player – a quadriplegic. He lost control of the vehicle he was driving after making a last-second decision to turn onto a road. Although he was wearing a seatbelt, Shay’s neck bore the brunt of the injury from the crash when the vehicle rolled over into a ditch. He has the use of his hands and mobility with his arms to a certain extent, but he has no use of his legs and no sensation from the top of his chest down.
But what he lacks in physical movement he more than makes up for in his determination and work ethic. About Switzerland he says, “I need to get times to qualify for nationals, which I should be able to do.”
(You can view a video here of Ryan Shay talking about Switzerland and wheelchair racing.)
Shay will compete in 100, 200 and 400 metre races. His parents Greg and Monette Shay will be making the trip with him.
“It’s going to be a great experience, not just being in the races, but being in an environment with that many people strictly just for wheelchair racing,” he says. “It’s going to be a great experience all around.”
Shay has committed himself to a pretty grueling training schedule. Since last year he’s been traveling to Halifax at least two times a week to train at the Canada Games Centre. He still trains at the centre but now that the weather is improving he can also train outdoors on a track in Sackville and at St. Mary’s University. When he’s not in the city he’s often at the YMCA in Yarmouth doing more training.
His plans, though, are to move to Halifax to be closer to the training facilities he needs.
He’s also been to a training camp in Atlanta, and more recently in March he attended one in Daytona. He says the Daytona training camp was a great experience because he got to meet many members of the Canadian Paralympic team.
Shay has had some health issues over the winter and early spring to contend with. He experienced a swelling of his leg and also had an issue with elevated blood pressure. But he worked through those issues and was able to avoid any prolonged disruption of his training. Uncontrolled spasms in his legs are something else he has to deal with, although he thinks over time the spasms will subside.
Shay’s coach, Ueli Albert, is from Switzerland. When the pair first met Albert had a six-year training plan in mind for Shay. They’ve since accelerated many aspects of the plan and dropped others.
Shay is not only up for training and racing challenges, he’s constantly looking for new ones. He’s looking ahead to such competitions as the Canadian nationals and, potentially, the world juniors in England.
Among the other meets of different scales he’s registering for or considering, he says he may even do one kilometre of the Sheila Poole race in Yarmouth this summer.
Aside from the racing and training Shay has also begun accepting invitations to speak to groups or at events. He did one of his first speaking engagements before leaving for Switzerland and has others planned when he returns.
Shay also continues to hope for sponsorship opportunities and will be looking at fundraisers since not only is it expensive to attend races and do his training, but he hopes next year to order a new racing wheelchair that is better suited to his body.
Meanwhile, Shay keeps people updated daily of his experiences, his races, his training and his future plans on his Facebook page called Ryan Shay Paratrack. He says he’s been encouraged by the number of likes his page has received and he’s grateful to all of the support he’s receiving from family, friends and the public.
“It’s very flattering,” he says, adding he enjoys involving people in his new journey in life.