The Indomitable Spirit of Paralympian Michelle Salt

To many, the word “Paralympian” represents grit, perseverance and determination. To me, this word gave me purpose. 

In 2011, I was in a near fatal motorcycle accident that should have taken my life.  By some miracle, I survived but with a broken body and the loss of 75% of my leg. 

The day I found out I was an amputee I became determined to compete in the 2014 Sochi Paralympics. I had no idea what it would take, but I knew my work was cut out for me.  

My Journey as a Paralympian 

I started by pushing myself relentlessly during rehabilitation at the hospital. During my accident, I hit a guardrail at 120 kph, and the damage to my body beyond my amputated leg was severe.  After eight months, I’d rehabilitated to the point I was able to get back on my snowboard. I found a local, grassroots snowboarding program and was assigned a coach with a background in Boardercross. From there, I spent every hour I could relearning how to board and stay upright. Many moments were rewarding; many more were frustrating. People told me the 2014 Paralympic games were out of reach, but I used their doubt as my motivator.

Just 2 ½ years later, still healing emotionally and physically from my accident, I became Canada’s first female Paralympic snowboarder. I wasn’t ready to stop there; I worked incredibly hard and eventually stood on 14 World Cup podiums and finished 4th and 5th in the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympics.  

Lessons Learned as a Paralympian

The past six years as a national athlete have provided invaluable lessons, but what I value most has been the people around me. When most people watch the Olympics and Paralympics, they see athletes from countries around the world competing against one another for a spot on the podium. What they don’t see is the lasting friendships, the advice we eagerly share with new athletes on the circuit, and the hugs and cheers we share after the competition. 

Retiring as a Paralympian wasn’t hard because I would miss snowboarding; it was hard because I had to say goodbye to some of my favorite people. 

The Unbreakable Bond of Being a Paralympian 

I often tell people that it’s an interesting thing meeting different people from different sports in the dining room or the gym prior to the games starting. Everyone is happy to share stories, but the second the opening ceremony is over, the temperature in the room changes and the competition has begun. We put on our best game faces, and we steer clear of distractions. 

 For four years, we live and breathe our sport. We miss countless weddings, birthdays and celebrations, and we train until our bodies hurt. We do this for an event that is often over in the blink of an eye.  

As Paralympians we are often introduced to sport after tragedy or disease, or maybe we’ve lived life always feeling different. We come together as people who have adapted, overcome and found purpose within sport. We fail, we lose, but we always get back up and try again. That is what being a Paralympian is all about. 

The US Olympic and Paralympic Museum  

If you live in the United States and want to get a better understanding of the Paralympian experience, I recommend visiting the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. Doing so was an incredible experience for so many reasons. Not only was the facility fully accessible but for me, it was the opportunity to celebrate the excellence of my fellow Paralympians.  
The museum taught us the history behind the games, showcased medals from many Olympics and Paralympics games, and was interactive with films to watch and sports to try. It ended with a room wrapped in screens showing previous opening ceremonies. That really hit home because out of everything I was able to experience as an Athlete, the opening ceremonies were always my favorite.

Michelle Salt is a self-described adrenaline junkie, determined athlete and challenge seeker, but in June of 2011 she faced her most difficult challenge: a life-threatening motorcycle accident. Not allowing herself to sink into dark places, she turned tragedy into opportunity. Today, she is an accomplished athlete in multiple sports, a two-time Paralympic Snowboarder, a TEDx speaker and a devoted accessibility advocate.

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