Ep. #30 Reclaiming Your Life: A Story of Human Resilience with Para-athlete and Inspiration Rich Vander Wal

Rich Vander Wal is a para athlete, recreation therapist, keynote speaker, entrepreneur, and an inspiration to all. In this episode, Rich tells us his story of transformation after having experienced a traumatic Spinal Cord Injury in 1992, which resulted in complete T4 Paraplegia. These days Rich is a Recreation Therapist and Founder of Neurocore Physiotherapy, a rehab centre for individuals with neurological conditions, a father and family man, an elite athlete, and keynote speaker helping people find fulfillment in their lives. Rich’s story epitomizes human resilience and being able to reclaim your life after suffering a life-changing accident. 

After suffering a complete T4 paraplegia in a motorcycle accident, Rich’s whole world was shaken. His whole life suddenly had to change as he embarked on a journey on learning how to live a fulfilled life after the accident. After spending months in rehab learning to work his body in new ways, and learning to use his new equipment, Rich found himself again in sports and athletics – albeit now he had to also redefine training as a para athlete. Rich got involved in just about as many sports as he could – rowing, tennis, cycling, swimming, skiing, and mountain biking. Sport and athletics is still an essential part of Rich’s life. Rich has represented Canada in rowing, tennis, and alpine skiing and is currently training for a triathlon event. 

Rich became a recreation therapist and advocate for people who have suffered serious injury or medical conditions after being inspired by his own rehab team. Now he is the inspiration to many others and strives to show people how it is possible to reclaim your life after a massive change.

Rich Vander Wal, B.R.L.S., T.R.

The Person

Rich brings a unique approach to Neurocore as he designed and built much of the space to reflect a calming, non-traditional atmosphere where someone with a neurological condition will have the opportunity to exercise in an accessible, warm and friendly environment.

Having experienced a traumatic Spinal Cord Injury in 1992, which resulted in complete T4 Paraplegia, Rich brings a wealth of personal life experiences to individuals living with a neurological condition and the challenges that may accompany this life change.

Re-evaluating his personal values led him to Brock University where he was a recipient of the prestigious Price Waterhouse Coopers Gold Medal for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 1998. He graduated with a Bachelor of Recreation and Leisure Studies in 1999 and went on to attain an Honour’s post-graduate certificate in Therapeutic Recreation from Georgian College in 2000.  In 2013, Rich was awarded the Georgian College Board of Governors Distinguished Alumni Award.

As a qualified Recreation Therapist at Neurocore, Rich can help you to enhance your mobility skills further or work with you to develop new skills in an activity or sport of your choice.

The Professional

Working as a Recreation Therapist for 5 years at Toronto Rehab. Institute, Lyndhurst Centre, he worked to re-establish the “Outdoor Cottage Program”, lead the “Community Integration” Program and created a new “Get Outside” program to allow clients the opportunity to develop skills and increased confidence when using their new mobility aids. Rich still continues to assist clients and therapists with development of practical skills to enhance function and Quality of Life.

Rich’s dual interest for providing education and acting as a resource for customized seating and competitive sports equipment encouraged him to seek a position at Motion Specialties in 2006. He currently continues part time in this role as an educator and sales consultant with a focus on adaptive sports.

Rich’s unique teaching ability and life experience is an inspiration to anyone who attends his talks. He has been pivotal in providing education series and acting as a resource for individuals with neurological conditions, therapists of various disciplines and students of various age groups. Topics he covers include: Customized seating, wheelchair set-up & mobility, recreational and competitive sports equipment, promotion of physical activity, and sexuality & relationships.

The Ambassador

Everyone has to find purpose in life. Rich’s mission is about creating awareness and education to assist in others’ transition back to a life with an adequate level of quality and involvement.

Rich has travelled internationally to assist with integration and awareness in communities not familiar with the needs for patrons with a disability.

In Canada Rich has had a role volunteering with the following groups.

  • Rick Hansen Foundation, Wheels-in-Motion Keynote
  • Speaker/AmbassadorRick Hansen Foundation, Toronto Solutions Committee
  • Canadian Paralympic Committee – CMCL PresenterCanadian Paraplegic Association- Peer Support Program
  • Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association – Board of Director
  • Ontario Wheelchair Sports- Bridging the Gap Presenter
  • Parasport Ontario, Athlete Ambassador
  • Sunnybrook Hospital PARTY Program
  • Toronto Accessible Sports Council
  • SCI Action Canada – Advisory Panel
  • TRI Spinal Cord Rehab Lyndhurst Centre- Patient Educator

The Athlete

Rich’s involvement in various sports heavily defines his values and goals. He has represented Canada for 3 different sports; rowing, tennis and alpine skiing. In addition his other sports interests include road racing, off road hand cycling, triathlons, kayaking and scuba diving. He has received the “Order of Lake Ontario”, captained the “Golden Horseshoe Marathon” and been selected as Tennis Canada and Dairy Farmers of Canada’s “Everyday Champion”.

There are only 2 things he doesn’t do well, basketball and sitting still.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s