By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
Courtesy of: Sportsnet Magazine
Courtesy of: Sportsnet Magazine
When Canada's SportsNet selected Summer Mortimer as one of their athlete models for their "Beauty of Sport" edition, her first thought was that they had the wrong person. But clearly, anyone who has seen the photos has to agree that this 2012 Paralymic Gold medalist epitomizes the beauty of sport, and I am not just speaking to her stunning photographs.
Mortimer returned home from London as a four-time Paralymic medalist: two gold, a silver and a bronze. She also holds multiple world records in the S-10 category, which generally translates to a "minor physical impairment". One could argue that falling fifteen feet onto cement and shattering almost every bone in your feet is a little bit more than a minor physical impairment, but that is all part of the amazing story of Summer Mortimer.
Mortimer grew up a competitive swimmer and gymnast, and swam at the 2008 Olympic Trials as an able-bodied swimmer. Then, in the fall of 2008, while competing at a gymnastics competition, Mortimer missed the foam pit when jumping off the trampoline, landing instead on the cement.
At first, the damage seemed so bad that doctors thought she would lose her feet, and if she did not have to have her feet amputated, she would never walk again. She spent the next six months in a wheelchair, and another year and a half on crutches. She slowly relearned how to walk, and then, how to swim.
In other interviews, Mortimer has often spoken to the lack of appreciation people have for the Paralympics, specifically her disability that she hides well because she is too stubborn to show pain.
The fact that SportsNet featured her among able-bodied athlete is, hopefully, the start of a paradigm shift: "I hope this exposure will get more people interested in the Paralymics. A lot of people do not know the variety of abilities within the Paralympics... our athletes are all original, beautiful and inspirational," says Mortimer, "I hope that this will encourage more people to want to see that about all athletes."
She makes a valid point: able-bodied or disabled, athletes' bodies are something to be celebrated, because they represent years of physical hard work and sacrifice. Athletes are visions of health, and celebrating them like SportsNet has through this campaign or ESPN does via "The Body Issue" promotes a healthy lifestyle, and sets a positive example that we need to see more.
Accustomed to racing and training suits, Mortimer stepped outside of her comfort zone during the photo shoot, and admits that she is always uncomfortable being photographed: "I felt awkward, especially in a bikini," she says, but adds that the stylists helped her feel more comfortable. "Once the shoot got started it wasn't as awkward being in a bikini, and it became more of a comical thing." Mortimer says that her favorite part of the shoot was meeting both the other elite athletes and the people who worked behind the scenes at the shoot.
Of course, a trip to Vegas definitely sweetened the deal, "and what girl doesn't love playing dress up in a room full of clothes?" Mortimer adds.
But this shoot is so much more than a girl playing dress-up. It is a girl playing the role of herself: an athlete, a fighter, and a role-model for all athletes, disabled and able-bodied alike.
Looking back on her career, Mortimer says that the proudest moment was winning her first gold medal in London: "It did not really hit me until I was alone after receiving my medal," Mortimer remembers. "I sank down to the bottom of an almost completely empty warm-down pool and just grabbed my head in disbelief. Having dreams of being an Olympian growing up, going through my accident, and now where I am today all hit me at that moment and I broke down and cried underwater."
Because of her tribulations, Mortimer has an overwhelming appreciation for what she has accomplished.
Mortimer's goals stretch beyond picking up hardware at international competitions, however: "Ever since my accident, it has been my goal to inspire people going through any kind of challenge or hardship." A huge part of her motivation is born from the desire to inspire others to overcome the barricades in their own lives.
Well, Mortimer can check that goal off her list--along with winning her Paralympic medals--because she has done the amazing, probably what many considered to be impossible. From being told she would lose her feet to breaking world records, Summer Mortimer is the epitome of inspirational.
A copy of SportsNet's complete Beauty of Sport issue is available for purchase at its website, http://www.sportsnet.ca/, as well as on newsstands where available for the next two weeks.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o
Search For More News About: Summer Mortimer