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Sitting volleyball 'saved' Burnaby Paralympian after double amputation 10 years ago

Felicia Voss-Shafiq now battling for place in medal match at Tokyo Paralympics as member of Canadian national team
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Burnaby Paralympian Felicia Voss-Shafiq takes a break at a staging camp in Shiwa, Japan before the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

When Burnaby’s Felicia Voss-Shafiq moved to the Lower Mainland from California in 2001, she took up volleyball in a rec league at work.

She fell in love with the sport itself, she said, but there was more to it than that, too.

“I was new to the city, the country,” she told the NOW, “so, through volleyball, I met a lot of friends, made a lot of connections.”

In 2011, however, a bad case of pneumonia sent her into septic shock and threatened to end not just her volleyball career but her life.

She woke up after a two-week coma with her hands and feet bandaged.

Her hands would recover but not her feet, and both her legs were amputated below the knee.

Her main focus over the next three years would not be volleyball, however, but getting back to work.

“It encompassed so many things,” she says of her job as a support engineer at software company SAP.  “It included being comfortable in my new legs enough to drive and walk around. It meant training myself to handle the energy expenditure a full day of work required. It meant feeling like a valuable member of society, of my family and to myself. It also meant regaining my independence and my self-confidence.”

Volleyball was always at the back of her mind, she said, but mostly it just made her sad.

“I loved the sport so much, I missed it so much that I couldn’t even watch it on TV without crying,” she says.

Then one day a friend encouraged her to “suck it up” and try sitting volleyball, an adapted version of the sport for athletes with lower limb impairments in which players have to keep at least one buttock on the floor during play.

She was “quite reluctant,” she said, but she took to it the minute she hit the court.

Like the standing game, though, sitting volleyball has been more than just a great sport to Voss-Shafiq. 

“This sport has saved me in so many ways,” she says. “It allowed me to achieve my goals of being healthy and active; it gave me another network of support when I needed it – this is support from women, strong, amazing women, who’ve gone through something similar, who’ve gone through adversity, who’ve evolved through adversity. It gave me back the sport that I loved.”

Sitting volleyball has also sent Voss-Shafiq across the country and around the world to numerous tournaments and two Paralympic Games as a member of the Canadian women’s national sitting volleyball team – first to Rio in 2016 and now to Tokyo.

Team Canada is currently battling to make it past the group leg after dropping a hard-fought match against Brazil to start the tournament last Thursday.

They took the first set 25-21 but lost the next two 26-24 and 25-20. Canada came back in the fourth, winning 29-27, but lost the final set 17-15.

The Canadians rallied in their second match, beating Italy in four sets: 25:16, 25:14, 15:25 and 25:18.

Their final match in pool play will be against Japan Wednesday.

The team’s goal is to earn a spot in a medal match, according to Voss-Shafiq.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com