A hero returns to his hometown

Imagine what it would be like to have no arm and no legs. Would you be able to dress yourself?

Would you be able to play sports? Would you be able to make friends?

These questions started off a motivational speech today (November 12) from a great athlete who was born without these key limbs; Sarnia’s very own paralympian Josh Vander Vies.

For those who don’t know, Josh has been in both the Athens and London summer Paralympics, placing 9th in Athens and 3rd in London.

Now, between training and working on getting his law degree, he travels, inspiring others with his terrific story.

Today, at Northern Collegiate, where he graduated, Josh came back to prove how anyone can achieve their goals.

He began to tell us students his story, explaining that his love for athletics started off in his backyard on play equipment his dad built him. He would run up a slide, slide down and go back up often getting his mother to time him and always striving to beat his past goal.

Josh then moved onto swimming and soon after learned about Boccia ball. This became his new favourite game.

He made sure to get the audience involved in his story and stopped his tale to challenge the other special guest, Mayor Mike Bradley, to a game of Boccia.

Even though Mayor Bradley did his best, he was no match for this bronze medal paralympian.

After that, Josh returned to relive his favourite moments of the past Paralympics.

“During the opening ceremonies in Athens 2004, the stadium was at its maximum with 85,000 spectators. What most people don’t realize is that the athletes all stay in this long dark tunnel for about two hours before we get to come out. You can see the stadium and hear a deafened volume of the crowd but when you step over that threshold into the stadium it is 85,000 people cheering at the top of their lungs. When Canada is announced and you are there representing your country with all those people cheering for you, it’s the best moment of your life.”

He related another “star moments”: “During the game for the bronze medal in London 2012 we were playing Great Britain. All you could hear were people chanting “GB GB GB!” and you want nothing more than to beat them. My partner Marco and I started off the game 4-0 and by the end we had beat Great Britain 8-2. That British crowd was so silent it was triumphant. ”

Josh said his goal for the 2016 summer paralympics in Rio is to make the Brazilians as quiet as he and Marco made the British. He really wants a gold.

When asked what event or obstacle that you have overcome has made you the strongest or who you are today, Josh paused then responded.

“The hardest obstacle to overcome was probably trying to dress myself. It was very frustrating always needing help so the summer after grade 8 I decided to set the goal of dressing myself. My parents and I tried to come up with lots of solutions and in the end we put straps on my pants so I could pull them up easier.”

He then left us with some words of wisdom, “Make your own opportunities.”

If only everyone gained the inspiration and drive that Josh has, we would all learn to follow our dreams.

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