Jody: back in the saddle to the Paralympics

Keep training, everyone has limitations, but there are always ways to get around them.

Jody’s brain injury was so severe doctors considered her ineligible for rehab. But Jody beat the odds, and went further than anyone could have dreamed – all the way to the 2012 Paralympics.

At the age of 23, Jody was on a ‘trip of a lifetime’ in South America when a tragic car accident claimed the life of her friend, and left Jody with a serious brain injury, robbing her of her ability to walk and leaving her with a speech disability.

Jody spent four months in a coma, during which there were doubts she would ever wake up. As she slowly regained consciousness, doctors considered her ineligible for rehab and recommended placement in a chronic care facility. Never one to give up on her daughter, Jody’s mother pushed for treatment and Jody eventually went to the U.S.

“All brain injuries are different,” Jody said. “There are so many stereotypes of brain injury, that people are cognitively deficient, have no memory. There are people like that, but they are physically capable. I hurt my cerebellum. [My brain injury] physically affected [me].”

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After four long years in various hospitals, Jody was determined to regain her independence. One way to do this was to try and return to an activity she loved as a child – horse riding.

“It’s about the relationship with the horse,” Jody said. “Horses are very intuitive.”

But before she even sat in the saddle, Jody had to prove not only to herself, but to a large number of naysayers, that she was capable of riding, let alone riding independently. She began therapeutic riding at CARD – the Community Association for Riding for the Disabled.

Jody’s skills improved at a remarkable rate. Not only did she re-learn how to ride independently, she began competitive riding in 2009. She also began a Master’s degree in disability studies – multitasking by bringing her schoolwork to the stables. Until an incident happened which forced Jody to choose between riding and school.

“My horse tried to eat my book,” Jody said.

Jody put the Masters on hold, and the full time dedication paid off. In 2012, she was named to the Canadian Equestrian Team, riding under the maple leaf in Para-Dressage, 1A division, at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. (Dressage is described as “ballet on horseback.”) Along with her horse, Inspector Rebus, she helped Team Canada finish eighth overall while earning 11th individually in both the Championship and Freestyle events.

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An inspiration to others, the Ottawa Hospital began a Jody Schloss Fund for the Augmentative Communication and Writing Service in 2012, to assist people who cannot afford the 25 per cent of the cost of the devices the government does not cover.

“I can’t imagine the frustration of needing an Augmentation device, and not being able to afford it,” Jody said.

Now Jody has her sights set on riding for Canada at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. This time she has a new horse, Lieutenant Lobin. And in August 2015, Jody will be in the play, Push, by Ping Chong in Toronto.

As for advice to aspiring Paralympians, Jody says, “Keep training, everyone has limitations, but there are always ways to get around them.”