Rachel Naylor – “My Disability Does Not Define Me”

This is a story about Rachel. Rachel is a 20-something nursing student, who grew up in a small town called Cameron, just outside Lindsay, Ontario, a place most people have never heard of. She has two older brothers, who taught her a lot about competition, what it means to be resilient and never let her get away with feeling ‘different’.

There is something unique and special about Rachel. Her mindset is utterly positive, she’s exceptionally driven, inspiring and in her own words, she doesn’t let anyone tell her what she can and cannot do.

A third-year nursing student and long-time figure skater, Rachel was also born without a left hand. A congenital upper limb deficiency, which means that her left hand never developed during her mom’s pregnancy. Her parents were concerned at first but that quickly faded when Rachel was able to hit all her developmental milestones just as easily as her two older brothers.

At two years old, Rachel fell in love for the first time…with figure skating. Her mother was a figure skater and Rachel wanted to be just like her. At the age of four Rachel was enrolled in CanSkate, where she met her coach, Denise Harris. Rachel’s tenacious and positive spirit was evident even then. Rachel remembers going to the rink dressed in all pink outfit and skating into the boards on purpose.  This high energy and stubborn demeanour caught her coach’s attention.

At six years old Rachel shared that she “demanded that Denise let her skate to the chicken dance song” at her first competition. Thanks in part to her two older brothers, Rachel developed a very competitive spirit, so she took her chicken dance routine very seriously. The result, a clean sweep of first place medals that season.

That determination and dedication stayed with Rachel throughout her skating career and life. In 2016, Rachel qualified for provincials amongst a large pool of other competitors, most of whom were able-bodied. It’s important to note here, Rachel was not given any special considerations or points for her disability. Rachel would go on to qualify for provincials at least two more times, a huge accomplishment given her disability does come with limitations.

As Rachel improved, she noticed a greater impact on her skating. People around her were acquiring higher GOEs, starting to level up their spins with specific variations but Rachel is unable to grab her blade on one side.

“I couldn’t do an A-frame because I wasn’t able to grab the back of my boot,” said Rachel.

For some elements Rachel found herself having to wrap her arm around her leg because of her disability. A totally different approach than her able-bodied competitors.

Despite the challenges and difficulties that come with her disability, Rachel has never let that define her.

“My disability Is not some kind of separate entity here to hold me back. My disability is a large part of the person I am and has shaped my experiences since I was young” shared Rachel.

There will always be limitations, “I will never be a surgeon” she admits. Rachel has had to learn to function in a world that is primary built for people who are able-bodied. Despite all this Rachel moves forward through life with a ‘try first’ attitude.

This attitude is how she is powering her way through a nursing degree at Queens University. When Rachel first enrolled in the program, she was not sure if she would be able to complete it due to the limitations of her disability. While some people would never have signed up in the first place, Rachel’s try first attitude kicked in.

“If I figured out halfway through that I really wasn’t able to do it, I would tackle that when I came to it. But what was the harm in trying?” explained Rachel regarding her decision to enroll in nursing school.

Rachel’s mentality and approach to life and her views on her disability are truly inspiring. Often in life we are limited by our mindset and inner thoughts. Rachel smashes through negative thought and plunges forward.

In closing Rachel shared some advice and insights, “we need more visibility,” she says. “If you show people that you can do this and we have more faces of people with physical disabilities in skating or any sport, it will encourage more people to participate. It’s going to show somebody, hey, there is someone like me. Maybe I can do this?”

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