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Teased teen finds confidence in wheelchair track

Tara Jeffrey Abbey Leblanc never thought she’d be able to play sports, let alone become an award-winning athlete.
Abbey Leblanc, 15, has a new outlook on life after discovering wheelchair sports and earning a bronze medal at the Ontario high school track and field championships. Glenn Ogilvie

Tara Jeffrey

Abbey Leblanc never thought she’d be able to play sports, let alone become an award-winning athlete.

“She’s had a lot of struggles,” Mary Leblanc said of her 15-year-old daughter who just wrapped up her first year at Alexander Mackenzie Secondary.

Abbey was born premature, has cerebral palsy, and cannot get around without a walker or wheelchair.

“The last few years have been hell -- having to try and get her to go to school and get motivated. She was teased a lot in elementary school.”

But her first year at high school has been a positive experience, her mother said, adding Abbey has made new friends and is gaining confidence.

And it all started with Mr. Waller.

“He must have seen something in her,” LeBlanc said of the special needs teacher and track coach. “Abbey’s never been one to even think about sports, but she came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Waller wants me to try doing the 200 metre wheelchair race.’

“And the rest is history.”

Abbey was set up with a special racing chair and began practicing. At the SWOSSAA Track and Field meet in Chatham, in her first-ever official race, she broke the record for the Women’s Wheelchair 200m dash, at 2:12.82.

She moved on to place first at OFSAA West in Cambridge.

“She was the only participant at those meets, but for her, it was about trying to get a better record.”

At the OFSAA championships in June, Abbey earned herself the bronze medal.

But nothing could match the sound of the entire crowd cheering her on as she paced around the track and through the finish line, LeBlanc said.

“It was incredible. A proud, ‘Hey that’s my kid,’ moment.”

Abbey’s newfound athleticism has transformed her into a new person, her mother said.

“Before, she thought, ‘I really don’t count. I’m not important. I can’t really do anything,’” said LeBlanc.

“This really boosted her confidence ... those coaches, I’m telling you, they get these kids so pumped up and it just brings out the best in them.

“We’ve always told her, you can do whatever you want. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

“And that goes for everyone.”

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