In a wheelchair since 6 Jennifer Cloutier is studying stem cells at Harvard University
BY TERRANCE GAVAN – HN.ca SPORTS
Jennifer Cloutier is only 19.
She’s a member of Canada’s National Adapted Water-Ski team. She’s in Haliburton at Bonnieview Inn training with Craig Bowker’s Ski-Mazing Watersports.
She rocks a wake baby! But that’s just the start of this story.
When she was six she lost the use of her legs in a car accident.
Hard nut. Devastating. Cruel.
We can’t imagine what it took for this young woman to come to terms with that kind of frightening and life-altering injury. At that tender age.
So we won’t even try.
All we’ll say here is: Some things you don’t mess with. Some things you don’t question. Sometimes you just have to get on with the business of life; and reshape your dreams to circumstance. The hand we’re dealt is neither fair nor foul.
We make it what it is. Lemons, limes or ripe bananas.
If you’re smart and really, really lucky? You can take on life with a notion of karma… and not regret. Like Jennifer Cloutier.
“I was in a car accident when I was six and lost the use of my legs,” says Cloutier. It’s matter of fact. You know it’s not a pleasant memory. But one gets the feeling that there’s no grudge here. Cloutier may have been dealt a bad hand, but you know, guys have won Texas Hold ‘Em World Championships with a deuce and a seven.
Get it? It ain’t the hand. It’s the player. Cloutier is a player. In life. In sport.
Cloutier, a graduate of Immaculata High School in Ottawa, has decided that her journey of a thousand miles begins not with the first step, but with a hard push on a rubber wheel. Lao-Tsu be damned.
She is headed into her third year at Harvard. Yes, she entered the Ivy League’s most prestigious school at 17. She’s enrolled in an exciting curriculum and is wavering between pursuing a doctorate or possibly morphing into medicine. Right now she’s got two years left in her Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology degree.
And yes Harvard was a bit intimidating. “I didn’t know what to expect,” says Cloutier. “I was coming from a small school but I met a lot of people in the first two weeks who were like me. Interested in learning.”
She says the old campus still has some challenges with regard to wheelchair mobility.
She’s involved with a campus campaign to upgrade Harvard’s buildings to adaptive-friendly environments. Renovations are starting on her own dorm this coming year.
These are all pretty eye-popping decisions to be facing at 19. Of course it’s summer. And jeepers. Doesn’t that mean fun? Of course it does.
And for Cloutier this time spent in the water is all about fun. “I enjoy the challenge and I love the sport,” laughs Cloutier. She does a lot of that. Laughing. Especially when she’s on the water in that adaptive sit ski, popping a wake, spinning tricks or nailing a slalom run.
So what the heck went right? For Jennifer Cloutier?
That would be a book. And we ain’t writing a book. Besides if anyone’s writing that book? It’ll probably be Jenn Cloutier. We’re here to watch, learn and spend some time on the water.
On Monday afternoon, Jennifer Cloutier is sitting in a wheelchair on a dock at the Bonnieview Inn. She is about to board local ski instructor Craig Bowker’s Ski Mazing ski boat. On board are Jennifer’s two sit skis. One is a slalom ski and the other – a shorter number – is her trick ski.
Cloutier is attending the National Adapted Team Trials this week (Aug 11-14) and from August 18-21 she’ll be competing in the world’s just outside Cincinatti, Ohio.
Get this. She only became involved in skiing with a friendly push from her sports fanatic brother. She joined in the summer ritual with some friends who had access to a tow boat.
“I was hooked from the first ride,” laughs Cloutier. She decided then and there that she would pursue it and let the sport take her in its wake. That led to a coach Ross Holden, a stint on the development team and now a spot on the Team Canada roster.
I have a video interview with this remarkable young athlete and student which I will be putting up shortly. For now, sit back and take a look at a pretty special person.
We came to Bonnieview looking for some nice pictures and videos (got ’em) and some insight into a remarkable life – we got more latter than former. But that’s bonus, bonus, bonus!
We are better for the people we meet.
I have a unique opportunity to meet a lot of extraordinary people doing this biscuit.
I’m typing tonight and feeling very good indeed.
Thanks Jenn Cloutier. For that smile, that laugh; and that verve for life.
The slideshow below is thanks to Andrea Hagarty at the Bonnieview Inn and Craig Bowker, my buddy, over to the best watersports and parasailing outfit in Haliburton County.
None of this would be possible without Jennifer Cloutier who simply rocks the waves.
By the way Jennifer is also involved in sledge hockey, plays tennis, alpine skis and is involved with the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiers (CADS alpine ski) program.
Jennifer was introduced to the Adapted Water Skiing through Active Living Alliance and Ski Ability.
Thanks as well to trainer/manager Steph Laurin and Jennifer’s mom Sharon Cloutier for the all of their assistance with the interview.
Stay tuned for our video interview tomorrow.
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