Patriquin reaches out to youth

Dave Mathieson
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AMHERST - With hormones and emotions running faster than their decision-making processes, teenagers often live a devil-may-care existence.

Throwing caution to the wind can sometimes prove productive but it can also turn tragic.

Oxford native Barry Patriquin talked to teenagers about the consequence of bad decisions during the Amherst Regional High School 3rd annual Athletic Awards Banquet recently at the ARHS cafeteria.

"I've made my share of bad decisions and I hope the worst is behind me," said the 47-year-old Patriquin, who recently retired from competitive wheelchair racing after representing Canada at the Paralympic Games in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 and at two World Championships.

When he was 18-years-old Patriquin made a decision that wouldn't provide the opportunity for a do over - a decision that would radically alter his life forever.

"I was working as a welder at an engineering firm here in Amherst, I had a real cool car, I was in my first year with the Amherst Junior Ramblers and life was good," said Patriquin. "I'm thinking I've arrived, I'm thinking I'm somebody. In fact I have people thinking I'm somebody.

"But because of a real bad decision I find myself upside down in a ditch begging for my life."

Patriquin was drunk and decided to get behind the wheel of his car. He was driving alone late at night when he passed out at the wheel and slid off the road and into a ditch.

After his car crashed he pushed up off his legs and knew something was drastically wrong when he couldn't feel his legs.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

"The pressing issue was that I wasn't breathing," said Patriquin. "And my thought was simply this, 'Oh God, don't let me die. God, please don't let me die."

Patriqiun had started drinking alcohol about eight months before the night of tragedy.

"Needless to say, because of a bad decision my world was turned upside down," he said.

"Imagine waking up one day and the life you had known to date doesn't exist anymore. All your dreams are gone, or so you thought, and the simple things like running and walking aren't possibilities."

Patriquin lived in deep despair for many years after the crash.

"I would describe myself as being as close to death as you can be, without being dead."

Patriquin's life changed dramatically after he moved from rural Nova Scotia to Toronto, where he became involved with the Canadian Paraplegic Association and began to get back into sports - first as a wheelchair basketball player, then as a wheelchair racer.

"Sport is transferable to life," said Patriquin. "Teamwork, pursuing excellence, keeping healthy, developing a plan of action and being organized are a few of the things you learn from sport that you can apply to life."

Patriquin is highly competitive but said that there is more to life than being a good athlete.

"If all you're remembered for in life is that you shot a basketball really well or that you shot a puck really well, I would suggest that that's nice but that's not everything," said Patriquin. "It's what you give back and what you pass on that makes the difference - it's easy to take, it's hard to give back."

Through tragedy Patriquin has found faith in God and said the three main questions he has learned to ask are: "Why am I here, where am I going and what's it all about?"

And one other question he asked the athletes at the awards banquet to ask themselves when they look at him sitting in his wheelchair is, "Could it happen to me?"

"You say, 'Oh Yeah,' but you don't really believe it," said Patriquin.

"But the reality is that you're no better than I am. If you make a bad choice to drink and drive or to get in a car with somebody who does, then you've moved yourself one step closer to a tragic possibility - and that would be sad."

Organizations: Amherst Regional High School, Canadian Paraplegic Association

Geographic location: AMHERST, Oxford, Canada Sydney Athens Nova Scotia Toronto

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  • Story should be
    January 18, 2010 - 10:42

    Barry Patriquin is an outstanding young man as well as being local to Cumb. co. Any time you can speak out to youth with an inspirational message of hope we need to embrace it. Not only does Barry speak out but he speaks ups and leads by example - You get my vote Barry!