A renewed purpose – “a new team”
By Felicia Voss-Shafiq
Sitting Volleyball Athlete, Team Canada
To anyone who sees me, I appear positive, happy, and well adapted, with an amazing pair of legs. And I have every reason to be – I am part of the Canadian sitting volleyball team that won bronze at the 2015 Parapan Am Games, and qualified a spot in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Today, I’m alive, I’m healthy and I have gorgeous carbon fiber and titanium legs….but that wasn’t always the case.
On February 19, 2011, I woke up in the morning with chills. I’ve got the flu, I thought, but I got out of bed and got dressed for my volleyball tournament. Volleyball is a sport I was introduced to late in life, but one that I quickly grew to love and enjoy. Anyone who knew me, knew that a few sniffles and chills wouldn’t stop me from playing in a tournament with my recreational league team. Little did I know, that by 11pm that same night, I would be coding in the local ER and being put on life support with very little chance of seeing the morning light. We won the tournament by the way.
After losing my legs to septicaemia due to pneumococcal pneumonia and streptococcus in the blood stream, my journey back to life and to work at SAP where I work as a Support Engineer, spanned three and a half years. During my recovery, I realized a few things. This thing didn’t kill me, although it tried pretty hard. I give my mom extra hugs whenever I remember that she was told by the doctors to prepare for my funeral. And since I survived it, I made a conscious decision to live a good life, a healthy life. That started with determining what I wanted, and setting goals for myself to achieve it.
For me, after the numerous surgeries, the year-long stay in hospitals, and the intense physiotherapy, all I wanted was to go back to work. To some, that may sound a little short-sighted, but to me it was an overarching goal. It encompassed so many things. It included being comfortable in my new legs enough to drive and walk around. It meant training myself to handle the energy expenditure a full day of work required. It meant feeling like a valuable member of society, of my family, and to myself. It also meant regaining my independence and my self-confidence.
During my recovery, I had good days and bad days. On one bad day, I was talking to a friend, and feeling very depressed. Volleyball was always in the back of my mind, but after the amputation, I couldn’t even watch it on TV. Knowing I couldn’t play again broke my heart. My friend encouraged me to suck it up, and pursue sitting volleyball, because he believed that I would be standing on a podium one day accepting a medal for it.
Five months ago I tried it out for the first time and loved it immediately! I had been away from the game for almost four years, and while the concepts are the same, in my opinion it’s a lot more challenging. Before I knew it, I had been invited to a Selection Camp in Montreal.
Since then I’ve not looked back, becoming a member of Canada’s National Women’s Sitting Volleyball team, travelling to Germany and the UK for tournaments and training, all culminating into our biggest challenge so far at this year’s Parapan Am Games. And now, I am a Paralympic hopeful.
I couldn’t have done this alone. I have teams of people supporting me. My family banded together like I’ve never seen before, and my true friends never left my side. My medical team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists, and my wonderful prosthetist at Barber Prosthetics, worked together to ensure my success. My management at SAP encouraged me and supported me throughout my recovery. I dreamt about walking again, and about going back to work. And with everyone’s support, I was able to make that a reality. I didn’t dream about volleyball because I didn’t think it was a possibility. It was a limit I set on myself. I am so thankful that with my friend’s help and everyone’s support I was able to break free of that mentality, and pursue my impossible.
Volleyball isn’t just my means of being active and healthy, which was part of my original goal, but it has given me confidence, strength, joy, renewed purpose, and a new team. It has allowed me to see more of the world, to challenge myself to become better, and to give back to the community by teaching the sport to kids with different abilities. It has allowed me to proudly represent my country.
There are many things I learned throughout my journey. I learned that acceptance is liberating. I learned that asking for and accepting help is not weakness. I learned that by working hard to achieve your goals, everything is possible. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to never dismiss a dream because you think it’s impossible. You never know when an impossible dream could lead to amazing things.