UBC Okanagan Heat Volleyball Student-Athlete Jennifer Oakes


Last July, I had a moment that changed my life forever. I was involved in a boating accident, where I fell off the front of the boat and the boat continue to run me over, and the propeller did so much damage to my right leg that they had to amputate below the knee. I really thought that I wouldn’t be able to be an athlete. I didn’t know exactly what damage had been done, but I knew that it was very significant, and that i was lucky to be alive. When someone tells me that i can’t do something, I go out of my way to make sure that I can. Right after my accident, I decided that volleyball was something I wasn’t ready to give up, and right when I get that mindset, I was gonna do whatever I could make that happen. Hi my name is Jennifer Oakes, and I’m in my first year of Human Kinetics Program at UBCO. I think my whole life I’ve been an athlete and that’s been a big part of my identity. Getting back into volleyball so quickly really helped me with the mental rehabilitation, because i wasn’t stuck in bed all day and I was able to continue a normal life. While I was in the hospital, I got a text from the member of the sitting volleyball team, and she was telling me about sitting volleyball because they were actually competing in the Parapan-Am Games while I was in the hospital. It was really nice to kind of have somebody connected to that world, and the coach reached out to me, and by October i was playing with them. It was pretty surreal to me that a year and a month after my accident I was participating in the Paralympic Games, and that’s just a dream that not many people get to experience, and I’m so thankful that I got that opportunity. I am the youngest member on our sitting volleyball team, and that’s quite an honor for me. I decided to come to UBCO because I thought that it would be a great opportunity to be able to redshirt for such a highly ranked team. UBCO has a really good Human Kinetics Program, which I was very interested in, and the smaller campus is super beautiful and it makes it easier to commute, and all the classes are close together, and it’s really something that I was looking for. My experience here, so far, has been so unreal all the teachers have been so helpful to me. Because of the Paralympics, I had to miss two and a half weeks of school so that really put me behind, but they’re doing everything that they can to get me caught up, and all the students in my class has been helpful, and all the friends that I’ve made have been really generous with their time trying to get me caught up. Having the Royal Couple come visit us was so surreal. That was such an honor for them to be able to come to our school, and especially to watch us play. We were all super excited about it, and when they came and talked to me individually, I was astounded and was kind of lost for words, but they asked me about how my trip to Rio was, and how I was able to continue playing volleyball so quickly after my accident, and it was a huge deal to me that they knew anything about my life, and it was really incredible. In the next four to five years i’m hoping that I can get through school and get to my next goal of becoming a athletic therapist or physiotherapy, whatever I decide, and hopefully competing in the next Paralympics in Tokyo. So, I’ll have to train very hard to qualify for the games, and for the roster again. I don’t think people really treat me very differently since my accident. I think that’s partially because of how I’ve reacted to it. I’ve been very open to talking about my experience, and my disability, and my accident. If anything they’ve just been extra kind and, like, proud of me for what I’ve been able to accomplish.

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