“In 1964, at the age of 16, I was the youngest member ever on the French Olympic track team. All my life I had loved to run, play games, chase friends and fly like the wind. To train, secretly at night, I had to jump the wall that separated the Catholic girl’s boarding school from the boy’s school next door. They had the only track! The trial to qualify for the team were held in Paris. When I lined up to run, I didn’t even have the appropriate spikes. A kind runner lent me her spare pair. Coaches and of officials were wondering who this scrawny kid was. They found out 100 meters later. I was not only the scrawniest, I was the fastest! I was going to the Olympics Games in Tokyo.
On a beautiful Sunday, two weeks before leaving for the Games, I asked my father to take me for a drive to enjoy the freedom and excitement I felt because my dream had come true. It was not to be. A drunk driver suddenly came around a corner, head on. When I woke from a coma three months later I learned I might never walk again. And that my father had been killed.
I did learn to walk again with the aid of crutches then a cane. After graduating from La Sorbonne, I came to Canada, married and had two children.
In 1985 cancer overtook my left leg. Several amputations followed starting at the ankle and ending just below the knee. It was at the time Steve Fonyo was running across Canada. He inspired me, as had earlier another young amputee I had met, Terry Fox, and then later another found another friend in Rick Hansen. All three inspired me to pursue my ill-fated running career interrupted twenty-one years before. Three months after the last operation I challenged the Mayor of Nanaimo, British Columbia, where I was living at the time, to a marathon run to raise money for cancer research. Together we raised $20,000. To top it all I ran the final miles into Victoria with Steve Fonyo.
For me the rest is history. Three years of intensive training with able-bodied athletes in Calgary and world class competition culminated in a Gold and silver medal in the 100 and 200 meter sprints at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, Korea. From 1988 to l995 I held the world record in the 100 meter event and still have the world record in the 200 meter event. My 1964 dream had finally come true! But this type of intensive training. (read wear-and-tear on my stump and body), did not come without a price. A price in pain.
After Seoul it was time to get on with making a living as a motivational speaker and as I was to learn, living in pain. When you train at a high level you expect some aches and pains, but through repetition you don’t notice that much, or ignore the pain for the ultimate goal. Not so in daily living. I began to experience phantom limb pain much more frequently than before. My usual remedy was to transfer the pain to the other foot by applying equal or more pain by manually squeezing the other foot until relief came. This would work at home, but imagine me taking off my shoe and squeezing my foot in public.
One day in early 1994 on a visit to my prosthetist, Tony van der Waarde, I was venting my frustrations on not being able to deal more effectively with the phantom pain better and earlier. He told me about a new alternative pain relief system called Farabloc.
Tony had a sample of Farabloc which looks and feels like an ordinary piece of linen but contains extremely thin steel fibres. The sample he gave me was about the size of a large handkerchief. I took it home and upon my first hint of phantom pain I wrapped it around my stump. Lo and behold the pain was caught in the bud! I didn’t need to squeeze and I didn’t have to take a pain-killer pill!
Shortly after that I met the inventor of Farabloc, Frieder Kempe. He explained to me how Farabloc through its shielding effect protects damaged nerve endings. It stimulates blood circulation and aids muscle relaxation and can be applied for muscle strain and some arthritic pains. A seamless stump sock of Farabloc was made for me so I could wear it full time or whenever an attack of phantom pain announced itself.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that since I received the sock, even though I don t wear it all the time, the frequency of phantom pain has diminished.
Recently I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, an incurable disease that causes severe pain in the joints plus daily exhaustion. This unfortunate development has been attributed to the strain of extreme over exertion in my training for the sprint events.
Some other complications have also contributed to the onset of Fibromyalgia. Medication has been prescribed. To add to that, I’ll be using a larger blanket of Farabloc on my shoulders and back, where most of the pain is centered. I’ll be the first to let you know the results!”