Barwick in running for B.C.’s top athlete honours

Equestrian athlete Lauren Barwick of Aldergrove has been named as a finalist in Sport B.C.’s Athlete of the Year Awards

Para-equestrienne Lauren Barwick at home in Aldergrove with Maile after winning the gold and silver medals at the 2008 Hong Kong Paralympic Games.

Equestrian athlete Lauren Barwick of Aldergrove has been named as a finalist in Sport B.C.’s Athlete of the Year Awards.

Barwick, curler Ina Forrest of Spallumcheen, and skier Josh Dueck of Vernon, are finalists in the athlete with a disability category.

“The Athlete of the Year Awards provides a great opportunity to recognize these talented and deserving athletes, coaches and officials,” said Sport B.C. president Rob Newman.

“This year’s nominees in all of the award categories are certainly a testament to the strength and depth of sport in our province.”

Lauren Barwick, 37, is a member of the Canadian Equestrian Team, in grade II Para-Dressage, who has competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games. She won three medals in those games. In 2008’s Beijing Paralympic Games she won two medals, a gold in the individual freestyle and a silver in the individual championships.

At the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games, Barwick won a silver medal and a bronze medal in Individual para-dressage freestyle test grade II and Individual para-dressage championship test grade II, respectively.

According to the Federation Equestre International (FEI), Barwick is ranked as the number one para-equestrian rider in the world as of May 27, 2014.

Barwick became paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a ranch accident in 2000, when a 75 kg hay stack fell on her as she worked in the barn.

The 49th annual Athlete of the Year Awards ceremony takes place March 12 in Vancouver.

Lauren Barwick’s story -Courtesy of WorkSafe BC

When you learn that Lauren Barwick became a paraplegic due to a workplace accident at a ranch that supplied horses to movie shoots, you expect to hear a dramatic story involving film stars or jumping stallions. But the truth is, Lauren lost the use of her legs when a bale of hay fell on her and broke her back.

“It was an ordinary accident, but an accident that could have been prevented,” says the 24-year-old.

She was working at a ranch in Mission in 2000, taking care of the horses and getting experience around the movie industry. She dreamed of a career in the movies working with horses, maybe doing stunt work. She even had some opportunities to work on films during her six months at the ranch.

Lauren had always been a horse person. She owned horses, bred and trained them and was an equestrian jumper. She also had an agent procuring her work as an extra on film and television shows.

On Sunday, June 18, 2000, she’d just returned from a short trip away and came to work early in the morning to feed hay to the horses. Normally when hay is stacked in a barn, the bales are stacked in a stair-like manner, so you can climb up to the top and throw the bales down. But while Lauren was away, other workers had just taken bales from the bottom and left a tower of about eight bales wedged up between two walls. They had even jimmied the 100-lb. bales out from the bottom when they could no longer climb to the top.

“I should have asked for help, but no one was around and I was scared to go wake up my boss,” she describes.

“I wasn’t strong enough to pull any more bales from this tower, so I had to climb to the top and loosen the bales of hay. When I did, the tower became unsteady so I jumped down about 10 to 15 feet and to absorb the shock of jumping I crouched. At that moment, the top bale of hay fell down and hit me on the back and broke it.”

“I couldn’t feel my legs. I knew it was really serious because there was absolutely no feeling. I tried to move but couldn’t so I had to start screaming for help.”

She had been alone in the barn, and it took about 10 minutes before someone in the house heard her and came running out. An ambulance took her to Mission Hospital, but they were unprepared for the seriousness of her injury and transferred her to Vancouver General Hospital.

There she was told that her back was “as broken as it can get.” She had surgery which resulted in a bar, three screws and a mesh wire plate being inserted in her spine and around her vertebrae. After 13 days in hospital, she was transferred to G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre where she spent two months. In mid-September, she returned home to her mom’s house in Aldergrove.

But Lauren is not the kind of person who gives up just because she has no use of her legs from the hips down. Even before she went back to Aldergrove, she mountain-biked down Whistler on a four-wheel bike, she started sailing and even began teaching other disabled kids how to sail. And when she got home, she started riding horses again.

“I had said from the day I broke my back that I didn’t want to ride again because it wasn’t going to be the same,” she notes. “But I was watching a riding lesson one day and I started to cry, so they threw me up on the horse and from that moment on I’ve been back.”