Rehabilitation counselor and athlete role model

I have a hard time relaxing. Life for me is go, go, go – by choice,” says Recreation and Leisure Studies alumnus Chris Bourne.

Chris Bourne.One glance in his garage suggests this is perhaps an understatement: amongst the kids’ play toys hang a slalom ski and a trick ski for the water, a downhill ski, an all terrain wheelchair for getting muddy in the woods, a racing wheelchair, a handcycle, a collection of beat-up chairs with many miles on their tires and an assortment of spare parts. It drives his wife crazy.

An accomplished wheelchair racing triathlete – gold, two silver and a bronze medal in world championships – and avid water skier, Bourne has spent decades promoting a physically active lifestyle for people with all types of disability.

It was over 20 years ago that Bourne was enroute to a day of waterskiing and ‘fun in the sun’ when a freight train collided with his car, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Following extensive rehabilitation, Bourne was determined to reclaim his athletic and scholarly pursuits.

Missing his days of ripping across the lake, Bourne built a makeshift seating frame, bolted it to a kneeboard, and was back up on the water. With the purchase of professional skis, and dogged determination, he proceeded to three world disabled water skiing championships and set the Canadian slalom record for sit skiers three times.

Bourne finished his business degree, and later returned to school to complete a master’s degree in recreation and leisure studies at Waterloo. 

"The University of Waterloo was very attractive to me as I considered my graduate studies options because of varied expertise that faculty members had with regard to healthy, active living for people with a disability" he says. "I really valued the opportunity to bring together the spheres of community development, therapeutic recreation, management and program delivery and further explore my personal interests in these areas."

In his professional life, Bourne works as a rehabilitation counselor with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and also manages the Changing Minds, Changing Lives program in Ontario with the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

He continues to give back. Bourne has chaired Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada committees to make towed water sports more available to people with a disability across Canada and sat on the International Water Ski Federation's Disabled Water Ski Council. He also helped develop SkiAbility, a nation-wide outreach program that provides adapted water ski clinics for instructors and skiers with a disability.

As an athlete role model, Bourne regularly visits schools and rehabilitation centres to deliver motivational and educational presentations with the Paralympics Ontario's Ready, Willing and Able program and with the Esteem Team to inspire young people to achieve their goals.

Bourne is a firm believer that challenges are what make life interesting and that overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. 

I love to push the boundaries. The way I define the limits of what's possible is by continually going beyond them to what is initially perceived as impossible."

Words to live by.

Affiliation: 
University of Waterloo