Faith at the Paralympics

A Canadian rower never expected to be competing in London.

  • by Teresa Young
Joan Reid will compete in the single scull event in an adapted seat beginning on August 31. Photo courtesy of Detlev Seyb/

Few things could have been further from young Joan Reid’s imagination than being part of the Paralympics in London in 2012.

Reid wasn’t expecting to be a paraplegic at age 24, and she wasn’t much of an athlete, either.

A lifelong resident of British Columbia, Reid, now 51, became a paraplegic as a result of a car accident. She worked for Youth for Christ for a few years, then started a cabin rental business in a resort area in British Columbia called Enderby. Along the way, she discovered adaptive sports as a way to keep in shape and enjoy recreation.

“I broke my back when things were starting to progress for disabled people,” notes Reid. “I started with downhill skiing, then moved to horseback riding, curling and cross-country skiing. When rowing started up in my town, I decided to do that too, then went to a world championship in Munich in 2007. They all sounded like so much fun, and there were opportunities to compete, so I did.”

Realizing she not only enjoyed the sports but was also excelling in them, Reid decided to pursue the Paralympics for 2008. An injury in 2007 put her out of that opportunity, and competing in skiing in the 2010 Games became out of reach when Reid broke a rib while rowing.

I’m striving for what He wants me to strive for and it’s in His hands.—Joan Reid

Then she met the qualification time at a rowing competition in Serbia in the spring, and could go to the London Paralympics. This time around, she feels more prepared, more focused and ready to represent her country in a sport she truly enjoys.

“I’ve always loved being out in the water; there’s always something nice and beautiful about it no matter what the weather is like,” she says.

“[The quest for the Paralympics] started off as a one-shot thing, but I think I may be better than I thought I was so it depends on how I do in London. If I don’t do as well, I might want to give it another shot.”

Faith guides drive to compete in sports

Part of Reid’s drive to compete in sports comes from her faith in God, a relationship she has had for years. Raised by a Christian mother, Reid attended church regularly and gave her heart to Jesus as a young girl. She sees her rowing as a ministry that God has for her, a special vehicle to share His love.

“Faith has been the main reason I’ve been involved in sport and gone on to more elite levels. It’s always been a form of ministry for me and something God was always in control of,” she says. “I knew if God took me out [of competing], it was part of His plan for me. I’m striving for what He wants me to strive for and it’s in His hands.”

Her relationship with God has been the source of peace, especially in times of trials related to her training and qualification. But that pattern started 27 years ago, when Reid learned what true dependence on the Lord looked like.

She was out of college and working as a cook at a Bible camp, giving her lots of time to think and pray. One day she hiked up to a creek for her Bible reading and recalls praying a heartfelt commitment to God.

“I said I was ready to give God all of my life, whatever that means, and I specifically mentioned even if that means tragedy,” she says. “Two weeks later, I broke my back and I remembered that prayer. The whole time I was recovering it was never a really difficult transition for me. I knew it was God’s plan at the time.”

Peace and purpose found in God

Reid, who still has almost 100 percent of her upper body strength and uses a wheelchair, says she feels the accident actually gave her life a new direction that she had been lacking. And now that she sees how God uses her newfound athletic skill for His purposes, she is fully at peace with her life.

“It amazes me that I can see how much God loves me in the way He answers prayers. He blesses more than I can even imagine, and over the last year, He has really shown me how much He wants to bless me,” she says.

Reid notes that her faith and sport coincide naturally since both are such big parts of her life.

“If faith is your life and God is your guiding factor, you can’t separate the two. If God was not in charge of my life, I wouldn’t be where I am. There’s no way I could have done this on my own steam,” she says. “The things I’ve been able to do were miraculous. He’s brought me to this point by my trusting Him and letting Him do the work through me.”