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Athlete brings message to town

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At first glance Kelly Smith appears confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury caused by a 1991 rock climbing accident.

But a closer look at the wheels that Smith relies on everyday reveals that his life is not focused on his Disability, but rather his ability.

Such evidence comes from the wheelchair racer’s list of accomplishments, including placing third at the Boston Marathon, first at the Vancouver Sun Run, and is the 2004 Paralympics marathon silver medalist.

Behind his ribbons and medals, there is a driving message that Smith both promotes and lives by.

“After an injury like this your life is not over,” said Smith, who is also an avid white water kayaker, downhill skier and private pilot.

“It’s important to see the ability, not the disability.”

Smith brought his message to life for a group of Harwood Elementary students and local residents Tuesday at the 27th Street Scotiabank.

The Vernon visit is part of Smith’s tour as he wheels 642 kilometres over 11 days, which began in Kamloops Monday and ends in Vancouver June 8.

“This is an exciting challenge, but the ultimate success is about breaking down perception barriers, getting people to see ability not disability and raising funds to help improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries,” said Smith.

Through his tour Smith is also raising awareness for the Rick Hansen Wheels in Motion event Sunday, June 11, as the ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation.

The event takes place across Canada and in Vernon it runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Polson Park.

During Smith’s Vernon visit, local Paralympic gold medalist for 2006 wheelchair curling, Sonja Gaudet, applauded Smith’s attitude on life.

“We thank you for setting an example that a spinal cord injury does not mean a loss of life or dreams.”

Along with Smith and Gaudet, Vernon’s Josh Dueck, who became a Paraplegic in a skiing accident, is living proof of such words.

But for Dueck, who continues to fly down the slopes using a sit-ski, inspiration to excel is drawn from athletes such as Smith.

“I’m inspired to do what you’re doing,” Dueck told Smith, as he eyes the 2010 Paralympics.

The Man in Motion himself, Rick Hansen, said Smith’s accomplishments and current undertaking to wheel from Kamloops to Vancouver is what makes him a great ambassador.

“He is a great example of how one person can make a difference in the lives of others,” said Hansen.

And the Harwood students, who were treated to a hot dog lunch by Scotiabank, were also inspired by Smith, as they lined up to get his autograph.

Like Smith, the students also have their own motto to live by, which they shared in unison: “Be the best you can be.”

To join this year’s Wheels in Motion event there are pre-registration barbecues taking place Saturday at Buy-Low Foods from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Butcher Boys from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Registration is also available on-line at, or the day of the event at 10 a.m.

Morning Star Staff

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