Monthly Archives: August 2017

Story Untold: “There Are Always People That Will Doubt Us”

josh cassidy

Josh Cassidy stopped listening to others’ doubts years ago. Born with neuroblastoma in his spine and abdomen, and left partially-paralyzed from near-birth, Cassidy has become a three-time Canadian Paralympian and World Record-setting wheelchair athlete.

Quite the accomplishment for a kid who faced coin-flip odds over whether he’d live to see his first birthday.

“I think it was just over a 50 percent chance [of survival] at the time, so it was very scary for my parents — you know, firstborn son, new parents… I can’t even imagine what that would’ve been like,” says Cassidy, who was born in Ottawa.

Growing up using a wheelchair from the very beginning, “it forced me to be innovative with a lot of things at an early age,” he says. It also thickened his skin.

“At an early age, kids are very honest,” says Cassidy. “They might ask, they might not. Doesn’t matter. But then when you get to a certain age, there were years when I would have bullying or teasing, or just other kids not understanding. [And] obviously, that has an effect on you.”

“There are still people who say ‘you can’t do that.’ It’s something I take as a little bit of fuel [and] put it in my pocket, but not let it take over or bring me down.” – Josh Cassidy

Cassidy eventually found his place by high school, around the same time he discovered his school’s track and field team had a wheelchair race. That same year, Canadian Paralympian Jeff Adams won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games. A love for the sport blossomed.

“My first few [races], it was just in my everyday chair — and talk about thickening skin,” he says. All around him, other athletes were in dedicated racing chairs. Still, he held his own.

He kept competing, and as his confidence grew, his times improved and the stakes grew higher. He’s never looked back. Eight years after watching Adams at the Sydney Games, Cassidy earned his spot on the Canadian team for Beijing.

“That was such an incredible moment: getting my first Team Canada uniform and seeing the [Olympic] torch,” he says.

Other incredible moments would follow, highlighted by a first-place finish at the London Marathon in 2010 and a World Record-setting finish at the Boston Marathon in 2012.

A Paralympic medal still eludes Cassidy — something that has him training in earnest for another shot at the Tokyo Games in 2020. The doubters remain, although Cassidy seems undeterred.

“It never stops,” he says. “There are still people who say ‘you can’t do that.’ It’s something I take as a little bit of fuel [and] put it in my pocket, but not let it take over or bring me down.”

After all, he’s beaten the odds before.

“Having [those early experiences in the hospital] shape me, it gave me perspective on life, on health,” says Cassidy. “[It just gave me] this desire to do what I want to do in the world.”

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Story Untold: “The Biggest Thing That Holds Us Back in Life is Fear”

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A few short years ago, Amy Tunstall was a self-described prisoner to her own bed. Today, she’s travelled over 17,000 kilometres across three continents by bicycle, raising awareness for mental health.

“I was lucky, because I found a way to cope through the outdoors — but I always have my ups and downs,” says Tunstall.

For the 24-year-old from Niagara, Ontario, the importance of mental health became clear early on in life, after losing her father to suicide at the age of five.

“It was a really hard process for me,” says Tunstall.

“Mental health is something that a lot of people don’t fully understand. And when you deal with suicide, it’s a really hard death to try and cope with. My whole life, I’ve grown up with people who don’t understand or don’t care.”

“I think the biggest thing that holds us back in life is fear: fear of what other people are going to think, fear that we’re not going to make ends meet. If I let fear get the best of me, then I never would have done the things that I’ve done.” – Amy Tunstall

Tunstall found her element — and a release for her own depression and anxiety — when a friend suggested they bike across Canada together. By the time she finished in 2015, she had rediscovered a love for the outdoors and a newfound confidence in herself:

“I ended up in St. John’s, and instead of it being this super joyous moment of ‘I just completed something huge,’ it was more of ‘What now? What do I do next?’”

In the two years since, Tunstall has biked across New Zealand and South America. This fall, she plans to hike the Bruce Trail — a total of nearly 900 kilometres — raising funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association. A trip across Cuba by bicycle is also on the horizon.

“I think what drives me is just that need to go explore,” says Tunstall. “There’s so much out there that I haven’t discovered yet.”

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Story Untold: “I Wanted to Feel Alive Instead of Feeling Comfortable”

Christian Marques had it all — a well-paying job as a software engineer, a nice apartment in the French Riviera — but deep down, something was missing.

“I was feeling very disappointed with my position in society. I felt that I was working too much for someone else […] and I felt like I was just another cog in the machine,” says Marques, a native of Portugal.

So it was that the moonlighting poet left it all behind to hitchhike over eight months from Turkey to Nepal, his only constant companion a backpack, in what has become a book of verses in A Wandering Poem.

“I wanted to feel alive instead of feeling comfortable,” says Marques. “Comfort and security numb you, if you want to put it that way. You don’t get to feel that human intensity of confronting yourself with other people, with different cultures.”

“The first [encounter] that I had with the real Islam was very fascinating to me,” he adds. “It was like being a child again. Every little detail — the food, the smells, the way people think about things — everything was different.”

Resolving to write a poem a day based on his experiences, Marques went from Turkey through Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Pakistan, and India to Nepal — along the way, surviving a car crash in Iran, getting caught in a shootout in Balochistan, meeting refugees bound for Europe in Pakistan, and helping the earthquake relief effort in Nepal. He also experienced endless hospitality from people along the way — meeting truck drivers who would pay for meals and drive him hundreds of kilometres, and hosts who insisted on treating him like family.

The experiences left a profound impact on Marques, who now calls Lisbon home.

“If we have this gift of being alive, we should enjoy it fully,” he says. “And that’s something I learned on this trip — enjoy every moment as if it was the last.”

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