“The right orthotics can help you accomplish your personal goals, whether it’s cleaning your house or being an elite athlete with a good medal.”
From a long and rocky recovery, to rocking the cycling world on her custom-made tricycle, Shelley is going for the gold in Tokyo 2020.
Shelley Gautier’s road to a para-cycling champion began unexpectedly 17 years ago. An avid mountain biking racer, she crashed her bike while on holidays in Vermont, leaving her with hemiplegia, or one-sided paralysis, which affects the right side of her body.
She spent six months in a rehab hospital, an arduous recovery process, made all the more difficult by the fact that the staff at the hospital didn’t quite know what to do with her. She was wearing a one-size-fits all brace designed for a sprained ankle, which hardly addressed her mobility issues. Finally she was referred to Certified Orthotist Gordon Ruder who just happens to be a competitive cyclist as well.
The first step was just getting Gautier through her daily activities with an ankle-foot-orthotic or AFO. With her mobility and independence restored, it was back her dream of racing competitively.
Gautier returned to racing within a year of her accident, using a specially modified tricycle. It’s a custom road bike with two back wheels, adapted for Gautier so the gear-shifters and breaks are all on the left side, since Gautier cannot use her right hand. She has less movement in her right leg than her left, but she can still use the leg to pedal.
That’s where especially designed orthotics came in.
Gordon created a specially designed AFO that connects directly to the pedal so there is no unwanted, inefficient movement of the leg. Whatever power she has in her leg can now be directed toward moving herself forward.
Another orthotic device Gautier uses solely for competition is a WHO, a wrist hand orthotic, which allows her to steer with her affected right arm. This means that she does not have to rely on her left hand to break and steer at the same time.
With many wins behind her, Shelley has achieved international success. A silver medalist at the Guadalajara 2011 Parapan American Games, she went on to win Bronze in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Currently she is training for the 2020 paralympics in Japan.
When not training for competitions, Shelley can be found wheeling around the city in her tricycle. She also launched the Shelley Gautier Para-Sport Foundation in 2014, which enables people with disabilities to participate in sports and activities. While she is proud of her medals and honours, she is also grateful for the smaller life pleasures such as just being able to get out and about.
“Yes, my braces allow me to win races,” she says. “But they also allow me to get out of the house and interact with my community. People with mobility issues can be isolated, so it’s important to get out there and keep moving.”