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Determination, strength and courage in the face of adversity


By Laura Woodford

The road from fishing in the rural community of Branch to earning a master of social work degree could be bumpy for anyone. Add to that being the oldest of seven children, having a sick father and leaving school in Grade 9 to help support your family. Then add to that sustaining a spinal cord injury in a car accident, resulting in being wheelchair bound. This is Nick Nash's story.

Mr. Nash was 19 when he had a car accident. After weeks in the Health Sciences Centre and five months in rehabilitation, he moved back to Branch and worked at various jobs. He had some pretty bleak days, turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with his new reality.

The Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) advised him there was assistance available to go back to school. He told them he wasn't interested. One morning, after yet another night out, he decided he had to get on with his life. CPA helped him secure funding to begin the Adult Basic Education program. Completing the program in 1988, he went to work at the HUB print shop. In 1992 he got married; his wife has been a tremendous support in his life, he says.

Mr. Nash became determined to work with people with disabilities, so he applied to Memorial at 32 years of age with the intent of pursuing social work. In the fall of 1997 he was accepted into the social work program, achieving no less than 75 per cent in all of his course work.

Then, on the recommendation of his peers who had completed the master of social work (MSW) program at Memorial, he began the program in 2007 with the aim of improving his skills for counselling individuals, families and groups, and to advance his job prospects.

"An MSW opens up so many opportunities personally and professionally," he said.

In 2008, while working with adults with spinal cord injuries full time at Eastern Health and doing his master's part time, Mr. Nash and his wife decided to start a family. The ensuing round of medications and procedures through Newfoundland and Labrador Fertility Services was emotional and expensive, but in 2009 their little boy was born.

"It's the best thing that ever happened in our lives," he said.

He did have fears about managing if he was by himself. He soon realized in this aspect of his life, as in others, he can do all the things an able-bodied person can; he just had to learn different techniques, like how to lift his son safely.

Mr. Nash has been the recipient of the Rick Hansen Neurotrauma Initiative Award, the Eastern Health Employee Scholarship and the Association of Allied Health Professionals Scholarship. These were all very helpful towards tuition, books and babysitting.

Giving back to his community is a way of life for Mr. Nash. He has volunteered with many groups, including the Mayor's Advisory Committee, the Avalon Sledge Hockey Association and the National Peer Advisory Committee, contributing advice on breaking down social barriers, both emotionally and physically.

Adjusting to a disability doesn't come overnight, but you can learn to have more good days than bad, says Mr. Nash. Loss of work, lack of insurance, providing for your family, sexuality issues, help with funding for housing and equipment – these are all issues that face people with disabilities.

"It's about highlighting abilities, not disabilities, and giving people with disabilities the chance to prove themselves," he said.

He has also learned much from other people in similar situations.

"Peer support cannot be underestimated. It is so valuable to share your story and help people realize they have strengths, too."

Whether speaking about education, improving yourself personally and professionally or starting a family, you won't find Nick Nash focussing on the obstacles.

"You can do everything in life but some things you may have to do differently. You just make the situation adapt to you."