Paralympian looks up after near-death experience

Paralympian looks up after near-death experience

BY PAUL A REID Observer Writer

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

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LONDON, England — Toni Greaves was well on her way to achieving her dreams. She was 20-years-old, the owner of her own business, a member of Jamaica Women's cricket team and a football player, and with Christmas 2007 approaching, life was going great.

Plans were well on the way to celebrate the holiday as she looked forward to financial independence for herself and her mother when it all came crashing down.

Gunmen attacked her bar-and-grill in Goshen, St Elizabeth, shooting Greaves several times and leaving her paralysed from the waist down with severe spinal cord injuries. Nobody was ever held in connection to the incident.

Even when the former St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) student woke up in the hospital and was told she would not walk again, she interpreted the doctor's diagnosis as just a temporary setback.

"I thought the doctor meant I would not walk for about three months or so," she told the Jamaica Observer here on Sunday.

"I really had no clue about spinal cord injuries then and in my mind, when someone got shot, it was either they died or lived; there were no grey areas in-between."

Greaves is in London as a part of the Jamaican Paralympic team in the F54 javelin, but will not participate due to an over-subscription of athletes at championships. Jamaica has only been given three places in the event which started last Thursday.

The 26-year-old Greaves, who was born in Spanish Town but has lived in St Elizabeth and Manchester, now resides in Kingston where she drives her own converted car to move around.

She has had to rebuild her life from scratch and says it is not easy. "Disabled people can get jobs in Jamaica, but it is harder when you can't walk," she told the Observer.

She reflects on how quickly someone can move from being financially independent to depending on others on a daily basis.

"I get emotional when I talk about my mother as I was supposed to be the breadwinner for the family now," she explained.

However, Greaves is not one to dabble in self-pity, and after getting involved in disabled sports, first the now disbanded Women's disabled cricket team that was started by Brian Breese and then the Paralympics, she is one of the livewires on the Jamaican Paralympic team in London

She said the hardest part of the ordeal "was the six months I had to stay in the hospital. I wanted to go home as I thought I would be walking again soon."

Ironically, she was prepared for life after December 22, 2007, during her school days at STETHS, as given her cricket background, track and field coach Eldemire Smith encouraged her to take up the javelin event, which she competed in at Girls Champs 2002 at GC Foster College.

"It's my love for sports, especially cricket, that took me from St Elizabeth to Kingston," she told the Observer. "Given I had done the javelin (as an able bodied athlete), it came natural to me as it's the same movement, really," said the former cricketer who opened the innings with current ICC world No 1 Women's player Stafanie Taylor.

She admitted she was "not too enthusiastic" about the javelin while at STETHS, but is grateful to Smith as being involved in sports was beneficial to her health and she can still be involved in physical activities.

Still she says things are difficult for her as it costs her more to stay involved in disabled sport than as an able-bodied athlete.

She is, however, aware her financial plight is shared by the Jamaica Paralympic Association as she rues the fact that she has not been able to compete in more international events but was able to win the event at the US Trials in Indianapolis in June.

Greaves came to London with the expectations of competing at the highest level of her sport after gunshots deprived her of playing for the West Indies Women's team. But despite her setback, she still hopes for a brighter day in her new sporting forays.

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