I was inspired by John the moment I met him. I decided to get my company and I behind him and follow his journey. We believed recognition was needed for this particular athlete with such an inspiring story. A little different of a welcoming than the other DU Crew or Team DU family members. I wrote a story on his past life and the struggles he has faced and conquered. Take a second, have a read, hear his story, you may view life at a different perspective after this read.
John and I met two years ago at Algonquin College in the Small and Medium Management and Entrepreneurship program. I first clicked with John when we were paired up for a little group assignment; from there on I was beyond intrigued by his personality towards life and how he acted towards and around others. Sharing similar interest in winter sports, we quickly bonded and got to know more about each other. Not knowing he had a disability, John without hesitation briefly told me his story, this left me speechless and with many unanswered questions left floating around my head. I was inspired on how a young adult can move past such a giant speed bump in life and continue to maintain a cheerful and positive attitude towards everything he does. Here is his story.
Growing up as your usual ten-year-old kid John Leslie loved to play hockey, at this time he was playing the 2002/2003 seasons with the Arnprior Rep Team, and was determined to play on big team the next season. He started his training early in June, and was motivated to get as much off ice training in as possible to be the most prepared he can be for the upcoming season. Shortly after his conditioning began John started to develop a bump on his left leg, thinking nothing other than a sports injury, John and his parents believed an x-ray might be a smart thing to do. Following the x-ray, John found himself sitting in a waiting room confused to as why his family is by his side and not at school or work. Waiting upon the doctors’ return, the doctor informed them that he had a cancerous tumor in his leg. He was then quickly rushed to CHEO to have a biopsy done to double-check the doctors’ theory, being very fortunate that the doctor caught the tumor when he did.
After the biopsy was taken, John was then admitted to CHEO and begun chemotherapy treatments. These treatments are not wished on anyone, but in the end saved his life. Three long months of chemotherapy went by, which brought John to one of the hardest choices an 11-year-old kid could make. He had to decide between three surgical options. The first, being the most popular and safe which was an above knee amputation; the second, being a metal rod put in as replacement of the bone, this had many complications; or the third, a van ness rotation. John picked the third option in hope to be able to walk and play hockey again. A van ness rotation is when your ankle is completely rotated 180 degrees to replace the knee, this allows for similar motion to a knee joint. Still flustered about imagining his heel as his new kneecap, John set that aside and went in for the dreadful 12-hour surgery, which thankfully came out a success.
He wasn’t done just yet, a few more months of chemotherapy to go through, plus another surgery and he was finally done. Once received his artificial leg, he was determined to walk again and to start physiotherapy. On April 12, 2004, the end of his treatment, John was walking without crutches. That summer as his strength slowly started coming back, he was already out on his bike with his friends and that winter he was already playing non-body contact hockey and learning how to snowboard. There was no better feeling for John to be back out with his friends, staying active, and at this point he knew he made the right choice.
At the start of high school, John started playing competitive hockey and loved every moment of it. At this time, he was trying to balance working a part-time job and being committed to a competitive sport. Knowing he wasn’t going anywhere with hockey, John took up a new sport and started snowboarding more seriously. With not having to focus on hockey, John started spending his free time out on the hill. Still a newcomer to the sport, John then started racing with his high school and after four amazing years of placing first and second in local competitions around Ontario, John was starting to get pretty good. During his final year his coach pulled John aside and asked him what his vision was for his future in snowboarding. Not knowing he had a career or future in snowboarding he just informed her it would be a past time of his. She then learned of his artificial leg and right away he was put in contact with Para Snowboard Canada. He was then invited to a World Cup event in Lake Louise to test his snowboard skills on a world level.
After saving money and fundraising his dream finally came true and he was on a flight to the West coast. This was his first ever boarder cross race and the butterflies were flying, but he did not disappoint. Taking home 5th place in the world and 1st in Canada at the 2011 World Cup in Lake Louise, John paved a path for his future. With the Para Snowboard team being blown away by his performance, he was invited out to Whistler, BC to try out for the team. John made the team, and went into the 2011/2012 season as a Para Snowboard National rider. Riding at the World Championships in Orcieres, France, and the World Cup in Nakiska, Alberta and placing 8th in both, he swiftly learnt the dedication and commitment it takes to be at the top level and to be a national athlete.
May of 2012 came along when John received an email that changed his life; he was informed that snowboard boarder cross had made it into the 2014 Para Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Knowing this wasn’t an easy goal to achieve, John increased his training and decided it was then time to become a full-time athlete. In June, John flew back out to Whistler, BC and gave it all he got. His hard work paid off he made the 2014 Para Olympic Team.
Now John is living as a part-time student and full-time athlete with increased training. John lives his life to the fullest. Aside from being in class or at the gym, he takes part in any type of physical activity such as long boarding, mountain biking and trampoline in order to be the most prepared for the 2012/2013 winter season. With views of bringing a medal home for Canada in the 2014 Para Olympics, John knows this task will not be an easy one to accomplish. With his beyond optimistic mindset, and unbelievably positive attitude towards life, John is well on his way to accomplishing his goal.
John would like to thank his family, his town of Arnprior, his sponsors, fundraisers and everyone that has supported him during his treatments and everyone who will continue to provide support to him on his long road to the Para Olympics.
The DU Family and myself are beyond excited to be behind John’s journey, and wish him the best of luck in his upcoming events.
Written By: Carlo L. Mion