Payden Olsen‘s life was turned upside down last summer, when a traumatic lawn mower accident ended with the Lethbridge College soccer player losing her right foot.
“I actually just had my year anniversary of my accident,” she said.
Last July, the then-19-year-old was preparing for her second season with the Lethbridge College Kodiaks, when her feet got caught under a lawn mower at her family’s home in Cardston, Alta.
“At the beginning of it, it was definitely mind-blowing — I couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said.
“It took me a lot to finally clue in that this was my reality.”
WATCH: Community rallies after Lethbridge College athlete loses foot
Olsen didn’t let the accident slow her athletic ambitions. On Friday she travels to Lima, Peru for the Parapan American Games — but she won’t be playing soccer.
Last month — less than a year after her right foot was amputated —she was named to the Canadian national sitting volleyball team; set to travel to Peru for the 2019 Parapan American Games.
“I did the best that I could to accept everything, and I’m making it a positive experience, and I’m so excited for this new path… I’m so excited to play in Lima.”
Following her accident Olsen remained close with the Kodiaks, who won an ACAC bronze medal in her honour last fall. For those involved with Kodiaks soccer, the news didn’t come as a surprise.
“I have to say, I’m not shocked,” head coach Sean Carey said.
“I think when I heard the news I was just like, ‘that makes total sense to me.’ The way she fights, everything is determination.”
The opportunity to get involved with sitting volleyball came to Olsen after meeting other athletes who had been through similar injuries.
“When I was in the hospital there were a couple girls that came in and talked to me about their amputations,” Olsen said. “And then they would just kind of like slide in ‘oh yeah, I play for Volleyball Canada!'”
Olsen said she began emailing back-and-forth with the team’s coach and then she was invited to one of their training camps.
“So I went up there and just realized that this was something I was interested in, and it just kind of took off from there.”
Growing up playing many different sports, Olsen excelled especially at soccer and basketball — but she sees the opportunity to learn a new sport as an exciting one.
“I played volleyball a little bit in high school, it was never my main focus. But once I contacted the girls and got involved with them, I kind of realized that was the parasport I wanted to go with.”
“Definitely still getting used to it, like my mind is always just thinking about soccer… but I’m excited to learn this new sport, and learn how to become good in it and take skills from the other girls, and just be taught.”
Carey said Olsen remains an inspiration for others at Lethbridge College.
“Just seeing how she’s accommodated such a traumatic event, and being that inspiration for our team and for our whole community here as a Kodiaks family,” he said.
“Some people wouldn’t be able to do what she’s done, she’s just really excelled and taken this tragedy and said ‘you know what, this isn’t going to beat me.'”
It’s also been a chance for Olsen to heal through new relationships.
“It’s nice to connect with a bunch of girls that understand what I’m going through,” said Olsen.
“Our team is amazing because we’ve all been through such traumatic injuries and everything, so we can all really relate together, and it’s just such a strong group of girls.”
And while her focus is now squarely on volleyball, with the team leaving for Peru Friday, Olsen still hopes to return to the soccer pitch eventually.
“I’m getting a sports leg made right now, and so I just have to start getting used to running on it, and trying to figure out where my feet are with the ball.”
“Hopefully I can make it back to soccer one day.”
The Parapan American Games are Aug. 23 to Sep. 1 in Lima, Peru. Through the tournament, the Canadian team has the chance to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.