News / Ottawa

Former Paralympian sends art to Olympic Village

Team Canada's boccia athletes will enjoy a bit of encouragement from one of their own this September, thanks to powerlifter-turned-painter Sally Thomas.

Former Paralympic powerlifter Sally Thomas is sending four commissioned works to the Olympic Village this September.

Emma Jackson/Metro

Former Paralympic powerlifter Sally Thomas is sending four commissioned works to the Olympic Village this September.

For a Paralympian-turned-artist, it’s a match made in heaven.

Ottawa powerlifter Sally Thomas will send four new paintings to Rio de Janiero, Brazil this September to brighten up the residences for Canada’s boccia team when they compete at the Paralympic Games from Sept. 7 to 18.

Thomas is an artist now, but until 2008 she was focused entirely on powerlifting. She was the sole Canadian female powerlifter to compete in the Athens Paralympics in 2004, and made the team for 2008’s Beijing games as well. That time, she was too sick to compete and retired from the sport shortly after.

Off the elite athlete circuit, Thomas was encouraged by a friend to try her hand at painting.

She’s never looked back, selling her “wacky” abstract work at community events and through small exhibits at local organizations.

The new works were commissioned by Jennifer Larson at the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association. She said Thomas’s unique experience as a Paralympian and an artist seemed like a perfect fit to spruce up what are usually bare walls in the Olympic Village.

“She knows what it’s like to live through that experience, and she’s now transitioned into an entirely different passion, and I just love that,” Larson said. “It’s just a little bit of joy. (The paintings) are just so vibrant, they’re full of colour, full of life.”

Dressed in paint-splattered pants and a powerlifting hoodie, Thomas said painting for her fellow Paralympians is an emotionally-charged honour.

“There’s love there,” Thomas said. “I miss it.”

The finished works feature the medals and messages of encouragement you might expect, but Thomas said she wants them to first and foremost encourage the athletes to enjoy the moment.

“In the end, it’s not worth it if you’re not having fun,” she said.

She knows a thing or two about the grueling training schedule, the head games and the set backs it takes to get to the Paralympics. While in Beijing, she contracted a staph infection that led to double pneumonia and left her hospitalized before she had a chance to compete.

Thomas recalls how helpful it was to have a bit of encouragement from home on the walls.

“You can bring Canada to Rio,” she said.

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