Summer Mortimer’s story is made for Hollywood: A gifted swimmer who is bound for the Olympics shatters her feet in a horrific trampoline accident. Doctors break her bones 20 times to repair them, consider amputation, insert pins and screws, and hope the girl may walk again.
She’s in a wheelchair for six months. She learns how to walk again. She adjusts her strokes, changing her balance in the water. Despite bone-on-bone pain, she never gives up. Shifting her focus from the 2012 Olympics to the 2012 Paralympics, she returns home from the London Games with four medals and several world records.
Fast forward, and the champion is back in Canada, speaking to a gym full of Buchanan Park elementary students what it felt like to win in front of 18,000 London fans. Her big message fits into a few words, words she hopes will inspire the next generation of kids, some of whom will face their own setbacks.
“With a positive mindset, you can do anything,” Summer says on a fall afternoon with her bag full of medals sitting on a table beside her. This visit is a favour to family friend and teacher Dawn Martens. It is also much like other school visits she does as a Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games ambassador.
The visit is a hit with students, who marvel as she takes the boxes out of her special bag. She won two gold, one silver, and one bronze in London. She places her medals around the necks of three Special Olympics athletes - Charlotte and Dora-Lee who are in wheelchairs as well as Sam. They smile for a photo.
Mrs. Martens’ Grade 6 students have questions, and are curious about many parts of her life. What were you thinking when the doctors said they might amputate? (Summer wasn’t aware at the time.) How did you feel when you won gold? (Awesome.) What other sport would you like to do? (Dance or synchro.) What’s your longest swim ever? (At age 11, she swam 11,100 m at a Florida training camp.)
With reporters, she also talked about her challenges: the lack of sponsorship for Paralympic athletes, her upcoming foot surgeries, and the little time she has for working as a swim coach. She also spoke of her own motivations – how many Paralympians have it worse than her, and how she was “willing to die for gold” in the 50 Free in London.
As an ambassador for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games, Summer visits schools to speak to students. She loves being able to relax, and possibly help kids who will experience tough times. She’s blunt in her summary of her own U-turn: “I was supposed to be on the Olympic team for London this year, but it didn’t work out that way.”
When asked, she also speaks about her experiences at HWDSB. She spent most of her elementary years either home-schooled or at Christian schools in Burlington. She moved to Hamilton for Westmount – site of the self-paced, self-directed program where students complete work with more independence.
“It allowed me to travel and prepare for university, with its self-teaching and self-motivating program,” she says of a program that gives students timetables flexible enough for outside pursuits like sports or arts.
“You really learn how to stop procrastinating, and you go to teachers when you need help. Of course, having a self-paced program really hits you if you don’t manage your time,” she says with a smile.
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