After being struck by a drunk driver, Kristen Cameron’s life changed forever. The avid hockey player had to pursue a different sport: Wheelchair Rugby. (Video: UHN YouTube)

Skating down the ice with her eyes trained on the puck, Kristen Cameron is a picture of concentration as she and her teammates try to take home a victory for team P.E.I.

It's one of many photos Kristen has from her hockey days.

Now, paralyzed from the collarbone down with limited mobility in her arms and wrists, Kristen is using her athletic skill to tackle a new sport.

The accident

"My life revolved around hockey. I grew up in a hockey family, went to school for hockey and decided to coach for my career," Kristen says.

Image of Kristen Cameron 
Kristen Cameron's life revolved around hockey – she grew up in a hockey family and played ever since she was a child. (Photo: Kristen Cameron)

Kristen was working towards her career goal, following in the footsteps of her uncle Dave Cameron, head coach of the Ottawa Senators. While studying for a Master's degree at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, she coached women's hockey and competed in triathlons in her spare time.

One evening on her way home from a bike ride down a road she had just discovered, a drunk driver hit her.

The impact broke her neck.​

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Lyndhurst's Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Cottage Program

Kristen arrived at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre for spinal cord rehabilitation.

"It wasn't until the first six or seven months of being at Lyndhurst that I started to realize this is going to be a more permanent thing," she recalls.

Charlene Alton, Professional Practice Leader for therapeutic recreation at the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation program at Lyndhurst, has seen this acceptance with many patients.

"When patients first come to rehab, it's pretty devastating, whether it's non-traumatic or traumatic," she explains. "I really believe it's up to us as recreational therapists to pinpoint when they're ready to take in new information because that's when they're going to maximize opportunities."

The Lyndhurst team saw the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Cottage Program as an opportunity for Kristen to get involved with sports again. Every year, Lyndhurst staff take patients to the Lake Joseph Centre, near Parry Sound, Ontario, to explore outdoor leisure activities such as sailing, waterskiing and kayaking and the chance to practice daily living skills in a non-clinical setting.

Spinal Cord Rehab Cottage Program
After attending Lyndhurst's Spinal Cord Rehab Cottage Program, Kristen's care team witnessed her change her perspective on her 'new normal.'(Photo: Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Cottage Program)

At first, Kristen was reluctant to participate but finally made the decision to attend.

"What I saw with Kristen is that she was one woman before attending the program and she was another when she left," Alton recalls. "She was able to take a traumatic experience and change it into a positive experience."

Back in the game

After having a taste of the athletics she was able to do, Kristen gradually tried other sports.

"It wasn't until I went to that first rugby practice that I realized, 'this is where I should be,'" she recalls.

Kristen is now on her way to making the National Wheelchair Rugby team, and this summer she'll be watching her peers represent Canada at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

"Wheelchair Rugby is a great fit for a lot of reasons. It's a lot like hockey in terms of how you play the game and a lot of the guys I play with played hockey."

Wheelchair Rugby
Wheelchair Rugby has become Kristen's new sport of choice.(Photo: Sportsnet)

Kristen admits that she's often hard on herself, but looking at how far she's come since her accident is rewarding.

"You have to be proud of that and I am," she reflects.

"It's definitely been frustrating and hard, progress can be slow, but it's taught me a lot and I've had an awesome support system. Just seeing that is huge."

Special thanks to Sportsnet for providing footage of Kristen playing Wheelchair Rugby.​

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