Swim Veteran Still Lives for the Pool

Published Tuesday, June 6, 23

Shelley Decoste has been involved with swimming for over twenty years. Shelley, who has Cerebral Palsy, grew up in Fort St. John and was introduced to adaptive sports by the local Child Development Centre. Shelley became involved in an adaptive sports program which had two sports, Boccia and Swimming, and three athletes. When asked how many of the three athletes were involved in swimming she explains “I was actually their only swimmer. I kind of just practiced on my own.” Shelley didn’t mind training on her own and it is this mindset that still has her going strong twenty plus years later.

For the past three years Shelley has had to take a break from swimming while living in Nova Scotia for transportation reasons but a recent move back to B.C. had her eagerly anticipating getting right back into the water.

Shelley now resides in Kelowna, a city she visited for the 2003 BC Disability Games. She is already back in the pool and trying to get more people involved in the adaptive sports scene. “I’m kind of just getting back into it. I’m looking to grow the disability movement in Kelowna, especially for the sports because there are a lot of different sports.”

Shelley recognizes that there are difficulties in getting adaptive sport programs up and running. She said that “just trying to get out and organizing seems to be a little bit of a challenge but that seems to be the way in any city with people with disabilities.” Shelley sees the biggest barrier for adaptive sport programs is people with disabilities “not knowing that it is out there.”

Organized sport for people with physical disabilities originally came about because of England’s need to rehabilitate large numbers of injured ex-service members and civilians following the Second World War. Sport was introduced as part of rehabilitation. The ex-service members and civilians wanted to continue with the sports past rehabilitation which lead to recreational and competitive programs throughout the world. Now if there is a sport there is a way to adapt it to suit the need of people with disabilities.

Shelley says that she “just likes to get involved with people with disabilities and show them that just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they can’t get out and enjoy life and do sports or whatever they want.”

Shelley herself is an excellent example of creating her own opportunities. Shelley trained on her own in Fort St. John, eventually joining the Fort St. John String-rays Swim Club. Shelley then competed across Canada in all levels of competition, including several Provincial Games. In the 2003 Kelowna BC Disability Games Shelley “won about four or five medals.” Shelley states “that was fun because I got to add on to my collection. I have 75 medals so far.”

Shelley still sets her sights on medals but is just as focused about letting other people with disabilities know that they can create their own future through sports. Shelley says that “you have a pretty good opportunity to travel with sports.” Shelley has enjoyed her many opportunities to see cities across Canada and knows that travel is not always an option for “people with diverse disabilities because they don’t have so much money”. Shelley remembers her own experiences fondly and truly appreciates the opportunity to “get out and see other communities and meet other people with disabilities.”

Whether for social or competitive reasons Shelley states that “sports are really quite a boost. It shows you that yeah, you can get involved with things”. Shelley also believes that adaptive sports demonstrate “that just because you have some limitations doesn’t mean you can’t find your way around it.”