Eddy Solla waited patiently at the bus stop in the morning of January 20, 2015.
But the bus didn’t stop for him.
So he waited for the next one. But it passed by him as well.
Fortunately, the third driver knew Eddy personally, and allowed him to board.
Little did those bus drivers know that they were passing by a Paralympic gold medalist. Nor did they know that they were making him late to the event where he would get his first job.
Eddy, who lost the use of his legs as a youth, was on his way to the Chilliwack Society for Community Living (CSCL) Supported Employment Services event, one of the many programs that CSCL offers to their clients.
Sharon Goldthorp, Vocational Counsellor at CSCL, supports Eddy in any endeavour he pursues. She had invited Eddy, who never had a job before, to participate at the event where employers in the community could get to know and potentially recruit CSCL job seekers.
“Everyone should have a job, no matter who you are or what you can do. It’s about independence,” Sharon explained.
Eddy quickly got talking with the Home Depot managers about his sporting events and goals. “They just loved him,” Sharon recalled. Home Depot decided to hire Eddy as a greeter, but one problem remained. How would he get to work?
The bus drivers had passed by him on that morning because they recognized Eddy as the young man who’s wheelchair had no brakes. It was a safety concern.
“The chair is older than I am,” Eddy revealed. It was donated to him by a former coach, but it lacked back support, the tires would regularly go flat, and the front casters were too small to venture off the sidewalk. For an athlete who loves adventuring outdoors, wheels getting caught in the grass is a big problem.
As Sharon and Eddy shopped for work boots, they told a client worker at Work BC about the bus incident. Motivated to help, she asked Sharon and Eddy to acquire quotes for a new wheelchair while she would see if funding was available.
Their journey to various mobility stores lead them to Advanced Mobility in Burnaby, where they met former Paralympian Daniel Westley, who had lost his legs during a tragic train accident.
As Westley took Eddy’s measurements and had him try out various chair options, he also lent Eddy some temporary brakes that would allow him to take public transportation to his new job.
On August 14, after months of overcoming one hurdle after the next, Work BC approved the funding, and Eddy’s custom chair went into production.
Eddy first tried wheelchair racing and basketball as part of his physiotherapy plan when he was 10 years old. After five years of recreational racing, he decided he was ready to pursue it seriously.
His first big event was the Canada Summer Games in PEI in 2009, and he’s been racing competitively across Canada and around the world ever since.
He won a gold medal at the Canada Summer Games in 2011, and he’s broken Canadian records in 800 metre racing (2012), 1500 metre racing (2013), and recently, seated throw javelin (2015).
But after years of strength training and growing, now at age 20, Eddy has become so physically strong that he’s actually slowed himself down on the track, meaning that it was time to change sports.
“This is my first year competing in field events,” Eddy explained. He’s been training six days per week with coach Harold Willers in discus, javelin, and shot-put. He’ll be participating in smaller American and European competitions, trying to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m working hard. I can get there, slowly,” he assured.
On October 15, Eddy made the switch to his new custom designed $7,600 wheelchair. Among the crowd in the CSCL office that day were Westley, Sharon, and Eddy’s father Windy. All were thrilled to see this journey come to fruition.
“When a chair fits right, it becomes a natural extension of your body,” Westley explained. Not only is Eddy’s chair precisely measured to fit him, it has bigger wheels to take him onto Chilliwack trails, it provides greater comfort and posture for long work shifts, and most importantly, it’s equipped with accessible and reliable brakes.
“It feels awesome,” Eddy enthused.
Sharon has worked tirelessly to get this chair, which will help Eddy to comfortably and safely accomplish many of his other dreams, like modelling and learning to golf.
“If I didn’t have Sharon, I don’t think that I could have a job, be a model, or have done this or that,” Eddy began. “Sharon has helped me with everything. I’m very thankful for her.”
And when asked why he chose burnt orange for his new ride, Eddy revealed that it was a tribute to Home Depot. “Just helping people,” Eddy said of what he enjoys most about working there, “It feels good to help people.”
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