From farm accident to Paralympic victory

By: Patricia Grotenhuis, sixth generation farmer

Darda Sales loves the sense of freedom swimming gives her

Former Paralympic swimmer and current National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team player Darda Sales is active, athletic and confident.  She is also an amputee from a farming-related incident.

One month before her third birthday, Sales was playing in the yard on her family’s Ontario farm with her older brother Kaleb (5) while her oldest brother, Ben (10), and their farm hand, Peter (14), were cleaning out a grain auger.  The auger was missing the safety shield, and had no wagon parked at it.  Kaleb decided to step over it, and Sales decided to follow him.  Sadly, her foot slipped.  Thanks to the quick actions of Ben and Peter, Sales’ life was saved.  Ben quickly turned off the auger while Peter called 911 and applied a tourniquet following their instructions.

During Canadian Agricultural Safety week, Sales has a message she wants to share with anyone who spends time on farms.

“Be aware of your surroundings.  Farms are great places to have fun, but you have to know what is going on around you at all times.”

Thankfully, her accident was the beginning of an incredible journey for Sales, which has led to world travel, international competitions, and using her story to motivate others.

Sales embraces life and her cheerful personality is infectious.  She learned early that rehabilitation is tough mentally, emotionally and physically, and how important it is to keep pushing herself.

“Set goals and keep reminding yourself of those goals.  You need to find something to motivate you to keep going, otherwise it is too easy to just stay in bed,” says Sales.

As a nine-year-old child struggling with physiotherapy, Sales was encouraged to try swimming as a way to keep her active and strengthen her muscles.  Sales fell in love with the water.

“To me, swimming is freedom.  When I’m in the water, it is just me, no prosthesis weighing me down.  My movements are all my own, fluid, smooth and strong,” says Sales.

Darda Sales proudly shows her 2004 Paralympic medal

Following six months of lessons, a recreational therapist asked Sales if she would be interested in competitive swimming, and Sales never looked back.  She represented Canada at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, the 2004 in Athens and 2008 Paralympics in Bejing.

Sales won two medals during her Paralympic career – one gold and one silver.  She owes more than just her medals to her journey, though.

“My accident led me to who I am today.  If I had not become an amputee, I would not have had the adventures I have had.  I would most likely not have represented my country on the world stage.  I would not have met the amazing people I have (including my husband).  I would not have become the confident, happy, outgoing person I am today.  My accident and being an amputee has taught me that sometimes things are going to be hard and nothing is guaranteed, but if you set goals and keep working, anything is possible,” says Sales.

Sales has since retired from competitive swimming, but has found a new sport to play.  She began playing wheelchair basketball, and following some coaxing from her coach and teammates, she tried out for the national women’s team.  She was selected to represent Canada at the World Championships in Toronto, June 20-28, 2014.

This has led to one of Sales’ current goals: to be the best wheelchair basketball player she can be and make Canada proud during the world championships.

In addition to basketball, Sales is continuing to set, and achieve, her goals.  She is currently working as a swimming coach at the London Aquatic Club and in the process, working towards completing her swimming coach certification.  Following her return from the 2000 Paralympics, Sales decided to share her story as a motivational speaker to help others going through difficult times.  She is still working as a motivational speaker, and plans to continue as long as possible.

To juggle both jobs plus her basketball career would seem daunting to some, but Sales takes it all in stride while also enjoying time with her young family.  She says her goal for her personal life is to be the best mother and wife she can be, knowing that perfection is not possible.

Sales treats her life as an incredible journey, and has been motivating people around her for years.

As Sales said, farms can be fun places to play, but her story shows how quickly and easily it is to find danger.  Thankfully, there is another side of Sales’ story – a side which teaches us that even during incredibly tough circumstances, it is possible to overcome obstacles, triumph over challenges, and achieve even difficult goals, all with a smile on your face and a helping hand for others who are struggling along the way.   We want to wish good luck to Sales in achieving her present goals, and cheer her on in her future adventures, beginning with the wheelchair basketball world championships.  We are sure that Sales and the rest of her team will make Canada proud.

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