Meet the resilient Tokyo Paralympian, Brianna Hennessy, from Ottawa, ON.
“We don’t know how strong we are, until being strong is our only choice.”
This is a quote that Brianna had her family write in her hospital room right after her catastrophic accident. It resonated deep within, as she was facing her new reality.
Brianna has been an elite athlete her entire life from playing AA ice hockey, to national level ball hockey, to representing Canada in rugby, to being an Ontario Amateur Provincial Champion in boxing. Sports have always been the most important part of her identity. But on November 11, 2014 while attending a work conference in Toronto, her life changed in a way she could never prepare for. While crossing the street as a pedestrian, she was struck by a speeding cab driver. She was knocked unconscious from the impact of her head smashing into the windshield, and suffered a broken neck and severed a main artery to her brain. At first, she woke up in the hospital and couldn’t move her body from her neck down. Since then, she has lived with excruciating chronic pain and mobility challenges as a tetraplegic.
“I felt like I had forever lost my identity that day. What would my purpose be now? What was the point? For the first time in my life, I was ready to quit. I was terrified, helpless, and felt stuck.”
“I had to choose to survive when I was in the hospital. When something bad happens, you only have three choices: you can let it define you, you can let it destroy you, or you can find a way to let it strengthen you. And for me, the third was my only option.”
2 years after her accident, Brianna was introduced to wheelchair rugby, and unsurprisingly quickly excelled in the sport. For the 3rd season in a row, she is the only female international import to play on one of the 44 men’s teams in the entire USA – for the Tampa Bay WWAR Div 1 team.
However, when Covid hit, competing in a team environment became increasingly difficult, so she turned to para canoe/kayak at the Ottawa River Canoe Club (O.R.C.C). This was upon the suggestion of her then wheelchair rugby coach, co-captain of Team Canada, & multi time Paralympian Patrice Dagenais. Para Canoe provided a competitive sporting opportunity that she could pursue during the pandemic.
Remarkably, in less than a year on the water and in both boats and with her phenomenal coach Joel Hazzan from O.R.C.C, Brianna qualified and made her Paralympic debut in Tokyo. She finished only 1 second off the Paralympic podium, competing against athletes who have years of experience in the sport. She is the first ever female to have qualified and competed in para canoe for Canada, in the history of the Paralympics.
She was also the only Canadian athlete to have qualified and competed, in both kayak and canoe at the Tokyo Games.
Since then, she has been training very hard with her team, and has gone on to win a silver medal in canoe, and bronze medal in kayak at the World Cup in Poland May 2022.
With minimal funding, and being a dual sport athlete for Canada, she has to purchase both a kayak and canoe, along with custom paddles and carbon fiber seats for her accessibility in the boats. This is quite expensive, and she is unable to purchase all of this on her own. Brianna has defied all odds with her sheer determination and resiliency. Paris 2024 is only two years away and imagine what Brianna will be capable of accomplishing with the financial backing to afford the equipment she needs along with access to the ongoing therapy required to continue being a world class athlete. Brianna has applied to CAN Fund #150Women and is currently on our funding waitlist.