Web Update Request – News – “Fearless” Cassidy
November 21, 2014.
“Fearless” Cassidy, honorary torch bearer for Pan Am Games, was featured in the Toronto Sun.
TORONTO – Next summer, if life were fair, Cassidy Sheng would swim for Canada at the Toronto Parapan Am Games.
“That’s her dream,” says best friend and Variety Village teammate Megan Sherwin.
If only life were fair.
Which brings me to a bright, shiny room at Emily’s House, a hospice for children near Broadview and Gerrard.
The Santa Claus Parade marches by in the distance, but we’re not feeling very Christmasy in Cassidy’s room.
A few hours ago, doctors told her there’s nothing more they can do. The cancer that took her left leg when she was seven, that returned to claim part of her lung last spring, then attacked her spine, is not done with her yet.
“They say it will continue to grow,” Cassidy tells me, “slowly I guess, and I’ll keep getting weaker until I’m paralyzed, until …”
If life were fair, no 14-year-old hears such news.
But I don’t want to dwell on that. This is not meant to be a sad story, though the ending inevitably will be.
This is meant to be the celebratory story of a little girl, all of eight when she rolled her wheelchair onto the pool deck at Variety Village, of her striving to find her way in this two-legged world, and of her quest for gold.
“The coach just threw me into the deep end,” says Cassidy, grinning through pain in her hospice bed. Tubes in one arm dull the howls of the cancer hounds. A pink teddy bear nestles in the other.
“It was sink or swim,” says Cassidy. “I swam.”
Did she ever.
When Cassidy swam butterfly at meets, people stopped and stared. Water transformed that meek little princess in the wheelchair into a powerhouse on the Flames, Variety Village’s fabled swim team.
“Swimming really is my passion. It has got me through everything in my life,” says Cassidy. “It gives me confidence. It gives me strength.”
The team gives her love. They are a madcap bunch, as you can see in the photo. They have taken to wearing stick-on tattoos, with Cassidy’s initials in the script of Pretty Little Liars, her favourite show, in pink and blue, her favourite colours, a water motif and “29,” her birth date and favourite number. The “tattoos” are made to stay on in the pool.
“She swims with us” is the new team motto, coach Cori Bainton tells me.
Cassidy took silver at the Can-Ams in Miami in March in her specialty, 50-metre butterfly. She won gold in the same at Ontario’s championship last year, to go with a silver and two bronze.
Suddenly, the Parapan Am Games, even the Paralympics, looked much less like wishful thinking.
Suddenly, she could see the way blazed by Stephanie Dixon, her idol, seven-time Paralympic gold medallist.
“It was going pretty good,” says Cassidy. “Training five days a week. I had a shot. I wanted it to happen so much.”
She did not know then that Miami would be her last meet.
She did not know that when she finally got to meet Stephanie Dixon, it would be at Sick Kids. The great one-legged champion heard about her plight and brought a stuffed Pachi, the Pan Am mascot. The two swimmers, a total of two legs between them, but more than their share of heart, talked of dreams.
Cassidy tried. As always. She sure tried. A month after they removed a third of a lung and a piece of her side, she was back in the pool at Variety Village. Let’s go, girl, she told herself. On with the dream.
But the cancer turned even nastier. It is everywhere now. Cassidy knows the fight she’s in.
“Yes. I understand what it is. I just don’t know why.
“I’m still upset about it, I guess. Maybe even angry. But I know there’s nothing left to do except enjoy life as best I can.
“But I wish I was back in the pool with the team.”
As for the Parapan Am Games, Cassidy’s dream has turned to carrying the torch in the relay.
She will. If life is fair.
“My real dream now, though, is that people will remember me and know my story,” she tells me, as I show her the new “tattoo” on my bald pate and get up to leave.
How would you like to be remembered?
If life were fair, you’d never need ask a 14-year-old girl that question. She thinks a minute.
“Fearless,” she replies.
“I really like that word.”
The story first ran in the Toronto Sun, by reporter Mike Strobel, at: http://www.torontosun.com/2014/11/16/fearless-the-race-of-cassidys-life. Strobel’s column usually runs Monday to Thursday. Hear him on 94.9 The Rock FM, Tuesday and Thursday mornings. [email protected].