Former Wakeboarding Champion Beats the Odds

You may have seen our Goalball Tournament posters around the various RecSports facilities and online. It will be our first time organizing such a tournament, and we are very excited to introduce our students to this inclusive recreation game. Goalball is in fact a very unique sport, developed years ago for the visually impaired. It has however gained a lot of momentum in the past decades, became a Paralympic sport, and is now appearing on campuses all over the country. The idea behind goalball is to show that having a physical disability does not preclude a student from being active and having fun!

We met with Kelsey Tainsh, 22, a couple of weeks ago, to hear her take on the importance of remaining active, regardless of your physical abilities.

After reading this heartfelt interview, I hope you will be inspired to go out there and let your body set the motion!

1 - RS: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born on July 19, 1990, with my two triplet sisters. I come from a big family and have two other twin siblings! I was very small as a kid but was full of energy! My siblings and I were really big into sports, a passion that started when we were all young. After I turned 5, things were a little different. I started to bump into walls, wanting to be carried around all the time. One day, my mom placed a cookie on the kitchen’s counter and asked me to grab it. I could not see it.

After visiting multiple doctors, we received the diagnosis. I had a brain tumor that needed to be removed. Two days later, I was on the operating table, having surgery. Following the surgery, I had to go through radiation treatment. It’s around that time that I realized the amazing support I had received and I wanted to help others feel the same way.

2 - How did you get started with sports? Was the practice of sport a family affair or did you fall into it while you were a child?
In sixth grade, I started wakeboarding with my brother and sisters and loved it! I also started running cross-country and, in seventh grade, I started playing volleyball. But there were some conflicts between volleyball and wakeboarding… so I picked wakeboarding! With the training and competing, I ranked third in the world and second in the U.S.

At that time I started to get injured and feel some growing pains. I was getting too tall to continue wakeboarding but I did not want to stop. In eighth grade, my siblings convinced me to take on crew, but my heart was really on wakeboarding. I still gave crew a shot and worked hard to improve. I was working out three hours a day, six times a week. And I quickly became a powerhouse at rowing. I started high school the following year and joined the Winter Park High School crew team.

During my sophomore year of high school, things began to change. I had really bad migraines and would turn red and have a bad taste in my mouth. I did not know until later that I was having seizures. After visiting the doctor for a check up, we found out that the brain tumor was back. Ten years later, the tumor had come back. After finishing my sophomore year of high school, I had surgery. The same doctor that operated on me 10 years earlier performed the surgery. When I woke up after the surgery, I could not move the right side of my body… Doctors told me I suffered from a stroke, sometime during or after surgery, leaving the right side of my body paralyzed. When I realized I was paralyzed, I had to make a decision; was I going to stay in a wheelchair for the rest of my life or fight back and do the things I love? I decided to get my life back and finish school. It did not happen overnight; I had to work very hard but I started in a wheelchair, and with physical therapy, I went from the wheelchair to a walker, then to a cane and I am now walking on my own.

Before surgery, I was in the best shape of my life. Being in shape definitely helped with my recovery post-surgery. Being surrounded by the amazing therapists at the Shepherd Rehabilitation Center, in Atlanta, Ga., helped me a lot too. My mom and I would commute twice a week, for two and a half years, to the Shepherd Center.

But I wanted to run again. Not many people thought I could run again, but I did.

While doing my rehabilitation therapy at the Shepherd Center, I discovered swimming. I loved it! Swimming also became my focus because my knees were hurting from running.

The Shepherd Center truly changed my life. They taught me that I could still continue to do what I love if I set my heart to. Once I wanted to learn to put my hair up which my therapist did not think I would be able to do it but that comment just pushed me to prove that I could. I can do it… by myself… without any help!

3 - RS: What does your typical workout routine consist of?
I go to the gym whenever I can. I have recently experienced some knee problems which have slowed me down a bit. I just had surgery on my knee and am recovering. But I still exercise, I perform upper body weight training and I swim too. Since my second surgery, I have taken up swimming. So I will get better at swimming and maybe try to qualify for the Paralympics. There are so many things out there that I still have to try. Working out is part of my lifestyle and I need to exercise to stay healthy.

I am also a part of a pre-health organization, Alpha Epsilon Delta. We participate in RecSports intramural volleyball, basketball and flag football leagues.

4 - RS: Which programs in our department do you use most and why?
Here at UF, I use the gym on a regular basis.  I usually use the pools and sometimes the elliptical. I use a grabbing cuff when on the elliptical so I can have a good grip on the bar with my right hand. I also participate in Intramural Sports. You know it’s not because something happened to you that should not stay in shape and active. I do cardio, weights and swim. It’s just part of my lifestyle.

5 - RS: What do you think RecSports has to offer to individuals with disabilities?
RecSports and I have been working together on building an adaptive program for the UF students with disabilities. It is great to be able to provide them with feedback. RecSports also recently ordered some grabbing cuffs. We have a video in the works. So changes are coming. It is important for students with disabilities to know that we want everyone to have access to the RecSports facilities, that we have the services and resources to help them be healthy and active. I know that it is important for me to stay active and I think everyone needs to get active.

6 – How has RecSports impacted your college experience?
When I started college, everything was very new to me, and it was even more daunting with my disability. Physical therapy and RecSports have helped me keep my healthy lifestyle. School was not easy but RecSports helped me stay in shape in between my sessions at the Shepherd Center.

7 – From an early age, you excelled in sports, first in wakeboarding then in rowing. That’s outstanding! What is your secret?
I remember my first cross-country race when I was in fifth grade. The girls took off right away and I was left behind in the forest and thought no one would be at the finish line. That day, I made the decision to work hard and get better and continue to practice until I get better and am not left behind in the dust.

But it is not about losing or winning, it’s about how hard you try. When you make a decision to do something, give it your 100 percent. If you do not give it your best, find something else to do that really motivates you. If you want something really bad, go after it, because you have got to try. If you are not trying, you are failing.

8 – Any tips for people, with or without a disability, who are trying to get involved in sports?
I know that going to the gym is not always easy. As students we have different activities that we are involved in but you need to make time for yourself.

About the involvement of people with disabilities, we need to spread the word, post updates and activities on the RecSports’ website and really promote these activities. RecSports has taken a great step toward building an inclusive campus recreational program and we need to promote it more. Post flyers and posters at the Disability Resource Center, Tweet about it.

You know I went on four study abroad tours since in college even with a disability. I may have a disability but I still studied abroad!  Anything is possible if you believe in yourself.

People support us but at the end of the day, I was the one to decide what to do with my life. It was not easy… I was paralyzed, it was hard but I got over it. I decided I wanted to do things and live life to the fullest. I decided I wanted to continue working out and sitting in a wheelchair for the rest of my life was not an option. I was lucky but I was determined. It is your decision to decide what you want to do with your life.

Kelsey Tainsh is a cancer and stroke survivor. She is a senior in Event Management, here at the University of Florida, and is expected to graduate in Spring 2013.

Kelsey is also a motivational speaker and also conducts leadership and adaptive tasks workshops. More information about Kelsey’s story and future appearances are available on her website:

Kelsey was recently on WKTK 98.5 for the Radiothon for Kids benefiting Children’s Miracle Network at Shands Hospital for Children at the University of Florida.

Follow Kelsey on Twitter and Facebook!


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