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Each Wednesday night we turn on our TV to watch another life gripping episode of the Survivors. Ten men and women have been marooned on an island. The tribal members have contests conjured up by the producers to discern who is going to be the last one left standing. Oh ya, there is a one million dollar prize for the winner.

Big deal, let me to tell you the story of a real life survivor. She is not cast away on a exotic distant paradise. All you have to do to get a glimpse of this outstanding athlete is drop into the downtown Y in London. Look through the glass atrium and you will see a women doing countless laps It is an amazing sight to behold; a tiny diminutive little person who appears to have no arms and a pair of flippers for feet churning her way back and forth in the pool.

I huff and puff my way to do my morning work out feeling a little sorry for myself. This little dynamo has a focus and goal that we could all try to emulate. I called Chris McAuley, the branch director, of the London YMCA who passed on my request for an interview. Susan Mathias showed up promptly at 9.30 in her motorized wheel chair.

Sue was born with severe birth defects caused by the drug Thalidomide used by pregnant women to help ease morning sickness. The pill was taken off the market four months too late for her mother. Susan was the sixth of nine children, two girls and six boys. Being the middle child is always a challenge but the anguish of having a Thalidomide enfant can be devastating. She has tiny three inch arms that are attached to her shoulders and her feet are unique, the left foot has seven toes and the right has eight. Five, seven or eight doesn’t make any darn difference she laughed.

Let’s look at her exhausting schedule. She is an early riser with an eight am. breakfast, followed by a Para Transit ride to the Y three or four times a week. Into the pool she goes for three hours perfecting her back stroke and front crawl. She averages eighty lengths, two kilometres, each and every day for the last twelve years. She enjoys the exercise and the socializing with the life guards and the other swimmers. Swimming is the only cardiovascular exercise program that she can take part in, pumping heavy iron she laughed was not a viable alternative.

Susan enjoys horseback riding and has been a member of a wheel chair floor hockey team for five years. She plays for the South Western Ontario team that vied for the National North America championship. She practices every Friday night from October to May. No slashing or bashing is allowed in her league.

In her “spare time” Susie is an associate member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Association. “Her artistic subjects include portraits animal studies and landscapes”. Her favourite animal is the wolf because they are a proud creature that rely on each other for companionship and help.

Susan lives alone in her own apartment with the aid of the Cheshire outreach program. She needs help with her daily needs of food preparation and basic hygiene.

This little dynamo has a philosophy of life for us “normal” people who have a tendency to do too little and complain too much. Her message for us is: “enjoy life, remember those that are less fortunate, focus on the big picture because in the end it all works out okay”. “Yesterday is an experience tried and learned, to-morrow is another day with something new and to-day is busy.”

The interview ended with a smile and giggle with her parting words; “have to get going, I’m too busy, get out of my way”. It is not often we get to meet the likes of Susie; she give us a taste of our intangible gifts, a sense of hope, humour and happiness that can never be taken away. They are within us all.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com