Lisa Franks is used to overcoming adversity. “I was fourteen and was jumping on the trampoline,” says Franks. “I felt really funny but went to bed not thinking anything of it. When I woke up and tried to get up, my legs wouldn’t move. By the end of the day, I had also lost feeling in my arms.”
Lisa underwent emergency surgery and was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that caused clusters of blood vessels to prevent blood from properly passing by her spinal cord.
“The doctors told me it would be a good idea to say goodbye since it was a very dangerous operation,” said Franks. “I was in surgery for eight hours. After the operation, I was paralyzed from the neck down and was placed on a ventilator. I was in the ICU for weeks.”
Eventually, Lisa’s condition did improve, and she was transferred to the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. “I was in intensive rehabilitation for four months. I was down at the start. I was in the adult ward and hadn’t really had exposure to people with disabilities before. By the time I left rehab, I could feel my arms and could push a manual wheelchair.”
Lisa’s life would take a different path upon meeting Paralympian Clayton Gerein. “My physiotherapist, Ruth, was married to Clayton,” said Franks. “Clayton knew I was athletic before my surgery. He asked if I would be interested in wheelchair racing. I was and he lent me an old racing wheelchair.”
By the spring of 1997, Lisa was practicing with her racing wheelchair. She made rapid progress in the sport, first making Team Saskatchewan and then competing at the Canada Games less than a year after her surgery.
By 2000, Lisa was competing for Team Canada at the Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. “Going in, I had no expectations,” Franks said. “I remember coming down the tunnel for the opening ceremonies. There were 120,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium. Going out onto the playing field, I was overwhelmed.”
Lisa far exceeded expectations winning gold medals in the 200 metre, 400 metre, 800 metre, 1500 metre and a silver medal in the 100 metre. Not bad for a first time Paralympian.
She continued the medal haul at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, winning gold in both the 200 metre and 400 metre.
After Athens, Lisa wanted a new challenge. “I started training with some of the Team Canada basketball team,” said Franks. She ended up making the national team in 2006 and won a world championship with the team that same year.
The team finished a disappointing fifth at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. Lisa also sustained a shoulder injury that would force her to retire from wheelchair basketball in 2010. “I was in so much pain, it felt like a weight being lifted off not being on the team anymore.”
Unfortunately, the pain did not stop for Lisa. “I was in chronic pain from 2010 to 2016. It got so bad I needed narcotics. It was hard to not be able to do the things I normally enjoyed.”
By 2017, having undergone successful shoulder surgery, Lisa felt more like herself again. “I tried hand cycling and kayaking,” said Franks. “I also heard of a place in Canmore that rented out adaptive mountain bikes. I took a road trip, tried out the bikes and was hooked. I saw the potential.”
Most people would have chalked up the experience to a fun afternoon bike ride. Lisa decided to form the Saskatchewan Adaptive Mountain Bike Club. She was even able to secure two kneeling style adaptive bikes.
Lisa was very thankful to receive the bikes. “For me, it got me back out on the mountain bike trails I enjoyed at Buffalo Pound when I was a kid. It also meant I could go out on trails again with family and friends. It is proven that nature is healing, and I wanted everyone to have that experience.”
The only problem was that the bikes were already eight years old when Lisa received them in 2019. The style of bike also did not make them suitable for people who may not be flexible enough or are paralyzed too high to ride that type of bike.
That prompted Lisa to set up a GoFundMe campaign for the purchase of two Bowhead Reach bikes. The cost of each bike is $24,000 dollars and the goal is to raise $50,000. The bikes would be accessible to many more cyclists with varying levels of mobility issues.
“It is obviously cost-prohibitive for most people to buy a bike for $24,000 dollars,” said Franks. “Our idea will be to rent out the bikes to people with mobility issues whether for the weekend or longer. It is a hundred percent non-profit. Ultimately, we want to get as many people out to enjoy the Saskatchewan outdoors as possible.”
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