Climbing is one of Kara Douville’s favourite outdoor activities. But in May 2013 while she was rappelling on a familiar climb at Grassi Lakes near Canmore, something went wrong.
“I remember realizing that I was falling,” Douville said. “I just remember hoping I would be OK.”
She had plunged about nine metres and was taken to Foothills Medical Centre where she spent the next six months.
“I remember my mom came in and she was crying and she’s a nurse, so to see her really upset is hard because that’s when I knew it must be something more serious,” Douville said.
She suffered a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
“It was definitely devastating because my career path was based on being very active and I’ve always been like that ever since I was a kid,” Douville said. “That was just my lifestyle, so to imagine a life without that was impossible.”
Everything changed for Douville when she discovered cycling.
Soon, she was on a national team and training at Calgary’s Olympic Oval. She competed in her first World Cup race last year as part of the Canadian Next Generation team, placing fourth even though she was on a heavier and less aerodynamic bike than her competition.
Douville’s friends have started a fundraising campaign to buy a carbon bike to help her reach her goal of competing at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. Her current handbike is made from aluminum which weighs more than the carbon bikes.
“It would make a huge difference,” said Douville, “but I managed to stay with those top girls anyway for most of the race until the end and I came in fourth. So I think with the new bike, I would hopefully have a good chance.”
Her friends are hoping to raise the $16,000 needed to buy a Carbonbike RevoX.
“It’s really inspiring but it’s also not surprising because it’s just Kara,” said childhood friend Sophia Zweifel. “She is still exactly the same person that she’s always been and she’s always been someone who I could’ve seen going to the Olympics or doing something incredible like that.”
It’s taken plenty of determination for Douville to get to this point. She has endured many challenges including a bone infection from injuries she suffered in the climbing fall.
“In the hospital, I was not a happy person,” Douville said. “I wrote notes in a journal and when I have reread them, they are awful. Basically wishing that it would’ve been better if I hadn’t have made it.”
The athlete is back in her element again, focusing on what she can do and what she loves to do.
“Just because you have issues doesn’t mean you can’t live your life in the same adventurous, active lifestyle as anybody else,” Douville said. “Every kid dreams about getting to go to the Olympics and I never would’ve had the chance if this hadn’t happened.”