by Dan Tremblay, VCI Staff

On Thursday March 2, some of our physical education students were greeted by Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute (VCI) alumni and Paralympian, Joey Desjardins.

Joey spoke to the students about many things, from the devastating accident that left him paralyzed, to the chills he still gets from looking back at his World Cup podium finish that I played at the beginning of the presentation. “I still get goosebumps from watching that,” he said. He was very candid with the students who had many interesting questions and none of them were left unanswered. He spoke about his days at VCI and encouraged students to enjoy these days fully because those were great times.

Joey remembers spending a lot of time working on his dirt bike in Mr. Nieman’s shop class. He told students that you have to live with risks every day and that you must know what those risks are, and that they can affect a lot more people than you think. He mentioned that he was extremely lucky to have the support system that he did to get through the early struggles after the accident. His family, friends, and (girlfriend at the time) wife Vanessa, were all people affected by his injury.

Think about others

He told students that sometimes we make decisions without always thinking about the others who may be affected by our choices. We think that if I get hurt, break a leg, sprain a wrist, “it will only affect me”. We don’t always think about how more devastating injuries might affect others around us. A great moment of reflection for many students.

Joey said that after the accident, it became a history of checking boxes. Sitting up in bed by himself, check. Transferring himself from one place to another, check. Getting his driver’s licence, check. He now says that the boxes are becoming a lot more pleasant to check. Getting married, having children, travelling to different places, and setting high goals for himself in his cycling career are all boxes that he continues to check.

After talking about his injury, Joey was asked about the path that took him to biking. He was introduced to biking and a few other potential sports such as skiing, but he really felt like biking was the best avenue for him. He said that leaving his chair for the bike gives him a huge feeling of independence. He also said that this is now the risk that he takes.

“Getting stuck with the bike, is a lot different than getting stuck with the chair. I don’t want to be 40 km from my house and get stuck with my bike.”

Students try handcycling

VCI student Own Sergerie tries out Joey Desjardins’ competition handcycle. Submitted Photo

Joey was gracious enough to bring two bikes with him to show the students. He described the two bikes as “this one is for business” (his race bike), and “this one is my toy” (his new, battery powered, mountain bike). Students were able to try the bikes and were amazed by Joey’s ability to not only get on the bike by himself, but also by his ability to manage both bikes quite well.

He continued by talking about his experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where he placed eight in the road race and 11th in the time trials. Joey said it was an unbelievable experience and he now has his sights set on the next Olympics in Paris in 2024. He continued to explain to students his travel plans, training regiment, and upcoming schedule to start training on the road even before the snow melts away.

Joey was leaving the following day for a training camp in North Carolina. He said that these camps were essential for his training. He usually bikes 50 to 70 kilometres a day (indoors in the winter), just to stay in shape and to reach his goals.

I would like to personally thank Joey for talking some time out of his schedule to speak with students at VCI. His journey is inspiring and his positive outlook on life, despite everything that has happened to him, is quite remarkable.

For more information about Joey and his accomplishments, please follow the following Paralympic Team Canada link:

Paralympian Joey Desjardins speaks to students at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute on Thursday, March 2. Submitted Photo