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CBE teacher uses personal experience to teach kids about resiliency

Alison Downey-Isaak had her leg amputated below the knee nearly three years ago. For the last two, she's shared her story with Glamorgan School at their Terry Fox assembly

CBE teacher Alison Downie-Isaak runs the Terry Fox race with students at Glamorgan school on Friday.

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CBE teacher Alison Downie-Isaak runs the Terry Fox race with students at Glamorgan school on Friday.

Calgary Board of Education teacher Alison Downie-Isaak wants her students to know no limits.

The Glamorgan School teacher is no stranger to adversity—having a below-the-knee amputation nearly three years ago after battling with a leg injury she sustained in her teens during a horse riding incident.

“After 15 failed attempts at trying to fix my leg, I chose to have it amputated,” Downie-Isaak told the packed Glamorgan gymnasium. “That was a very, very tough decision.”

During Glamorgan’s Terry Fox assembly on Friday, Downie-Isaak, told her students of the differences between herself and Fox—she does not have cancer, Fox did, she has a running blade, whereas the technology didn’t exist for Fox—as well as the similarities, including the struggles of losing a limb, and the importance of a resilient attitude.  

“We all have a story to share and all of us will experience adversity at some point in our life,” Downie-Isaak told Metro. “As a teacher I want to promote resiliency and empathy and this has really challenged me to walk the walk.”

The teacher spoke at Glamorgan’s Terry Fox Run assembly last year, too, but at that point she was only able to walk—this year, she ran.

“It’s been a journey that’s been both exciting, devastating and all the feelings in between,” she said. “I’m just trying to be real and authentic with students because I think that has the greatest impact.”

Another lesson Downie-Isaak hopes her students take away from her sharing her experience is about people with disabilities.

“I have a disability, but I’m not disabled,” she said. “In my case I’m more enabled since my amputation.”

Downie-Isaak said her amputation is another way to promote diversity.

“Diversity could be your skin colour, where you’re from, the language you speak or the challenges you’ve faced,” she said.

Throughout her journey Downie-Isaak said as much as she’s tried to teach her students, they’ve also taught and helped her.

“They’ve been very real,” she said. “Kids do say the darndest things and they don’t hide what they’re feeling.”

She said if the kids are nervous or interested about her leg, or how she puts it on and takes it off—they’ll ask her questions.

“As they get used to it we have a lot of fun with it and even joke about it,” she said. “We call it my baby leg.”

As hard as the situation has been for Downie-Isaak she said she’s grateful for the platform to allow children to see struggle is inevitable in life.

“But it doesn’t have to take us out. There are great things that can come from it,” she said.

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