Gold Medal Award Recipient - Dustin Paul
Dustin Paul's Story
I grew up with what, I guess you would call, a relatively normal childhood. I had a lot of friends, was actively engaged in all kinds of sports, and was a very outgoing guy. In May of 2004, at the age of 19, I was in an unfortunate motorcycle accident on The Sea to Sky Highway on my way to Whistler with some friends. I suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury that would alter my life forever; it left me a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down with no motor function in my wrists and hands.
The first few years were definitely the hardest, and I'm confident I have seen depths of life that very few have seen. I spent the first two or three years trying to adapt to my new body, both physically and psychologically. I have spent hours on the floors after falling out of my wheelchair and cried until I could cry no more. It is by far and wide the hardest thing I have ever gone through in life. In January of 2007 I decided I couldn't go on any longer feeling sorry for myself. I was too young and had too much to live for to let life pass me by. I enrolled in the criminal justice program at Langara College not knowing how much it would change my life. I immediately knew I wanted to transfer to SFU to pursue a degree in criminology.
School became an outlet for me to express myself, to be comfortable with who I am and not who I was. It would have been easy for me to retreat into a shell and stay in the house, but I realized that the more I opened up to others the more receptive they were of me and accepting of me. It led me to not only want to continue my education, but to carry myself with a certain dignity that would shed positive light on people with disabilities all throughout our community. As an ambassador of the disability community one of the greatest things I can do is carry myself with pride, confidence, and poise to break down the prototypical stereotypes of people with disabilities.
Whenever possible, I volunteer myself to speak to groups of nursing students at local colleges to expose them to the reality of the daily situation that people like myself face. The idea, at least from my perspective, is to enhance their understanding of people with disabilities so as to improve their communication skills in the work environment and hospital settings that they'll encounter down the road.
Despite the disadvantages I face in daily living I have maintained a 4.0 GPA and I'm happy to say that I will be attending my first year of law school this year while finishing up my last few courses towards my degree in criminology. Although I keep an open mind towards the future, one of my goals is to put my legal education use in helping alleviate barriers to full and equal participation of people with disabilities in the community.
In an odd way, that motorcycle accident on that fateful meeting has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Although I would prefer not to be in this situation I find myself, I am a better person for it because I would've never accomplished all the things I have in life without it. Whereas people see the daily challenges I face as barriers to participation in society, I see them as challenges to be overcome and take them one hurdle at a time on my way to success, whatever that may be.