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Two years after the Yonge Street Tragedy, Cathy is walking tall

Text by Katherine Nazimek, video by Kevin Van Paassen

Cathy Riddell, a former Paralympian and marathon runner, never thought that her biggest challenges would be getting out of a chair or putting on a pair of socks – the “little” things she took for granted until April 23, 2018.

On that sunny afternoon, the 67-year-old who had lived in Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood all her life, was walking to the library near Mel Lastman Square when a van suddenly hopped a curb on Yonge Street and charged down the sidewalk. Legally blind since birth, she says she never heard the van coming, nor does she remember being hit.

She was thrown approximately 15 feet (4.5 metres), landing with devastating injuries to her shoulder, spine, pelvis, and ribs. She suffered a head trauma and a slew of internal injuries, including a punctured lung. The severity of her injuries kept her confined to a hospital for two months, followed by two years of working to regain her mobility with the help of St. John’s Rehab.

And that she did.

With intensive multi-disciplinary care and perseverance, Cathy completed a 5-kilometre walk for cancer with her niece and grand-niece just a year-and-a-half after the attack.

“For some reason, my life was spared,” says Cathy. “I wasn’t going to waste it; not when so many others – young people – lost their lives.”

But Cathy says her recovery was more than just physical.

“It took forever for [what happened] to get through to me. That it wasn’t my fault. That I hadn’t done anything wrong,” says Cathy.

“The emotional support I received from my rehab team was my key to succeeding,” she says. “At one point, I didn’t think I’d ever get through and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But there is a spark inside of you that gets lit when you are around the right people and it will help you get through everything.”

Her first mission after leaving the hospital: walking down Yonge Street where the tragedy happened.

“I wanted to face my demons,” she says. “This is my home. This is my neighbourhood. I’m not going to be scared off by it.”

With her most recent surgery to repair her knee completed in February of this year, Cathy knows she still has some recovery ahead of her.

“My brother said to me: ‘you’ve got an uphill climb, kid, but I wouldn’t bet against you.’ And he’s right. I wouldn’t either. It would be a losing proposition.”

Cathy graduated from rehab in June 2020.

Cathy’s Advice

1. Don’t ever give up, but don’t deny how you feel. If you feel depressed, let it happen, tell people, and let them help you. You will get through it. Trust in people, especially when you aren’t sure you can trust yourself.

2. Keep a training log. I went back to my old habit from sports of keeping a training log. Every single day that I go for a walk or to the gym, I write it down. It tells me I’m committed to this and I’ve been committed to this since day one. You don’t want to let yourself down, and you can see it on paper if you do. That to me is a motivator.

3. You are stronger than you think. At one point, I didn’t think I’d ever get through it, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. There is a spark inside of you that gets lit when you are around the right people and it will help you get through everything. You just have to be patient.