Guest Blog: Bringing “Visibility to Disabilities” by Andrea Haefele

I first met Andrea in a professional capacity almost 6 years ago through my involvement in the Ontario health and physical education community. We were both hired by the Ministry of Education to meet with other provincial leaders and complete a technical analysis of the 1998 health and physical education curriculum document. It was evident from this experience that Andrea was a leader. She is passionate, dedicated to her profession, and one of the most creative and innovative health and physical education teachers I have ever met. She cares about her students and loves her job.

Over the past couple of years we’ve connected beyond the workplace, Andrea has shared her journey back into running after the birth of her son as well as the inspiration that she draws from her four year old daughter Bella. Bella, will be competing in her first Triathlon this summer in an amazing event which provides opportunities for children of all needs and abilities to be active in a fun and supportive environment.

It is with great honour that I share my blog with Andrea and I know you will be inspired by Andrea and her family as much as I have.

My Family’s Journey Bringing “Visibility to Disabilities”

I am a runner. I wake up at 5:00am and drag my feet out of bed. I can barely get my eyes to open each morning, let alone muster the energy to put on my running gear. And yet, every day, somehow, I tie up my shoes and hit the pavement. I push myself to run further, faster, and fiercer every day, because this is who I am.

I am a Health & Physical Education teacher. I get my students to move. I teach them how to play. I encourage all of them to live a healthier and more active life. I want them to love themselves, and to treat their bodies with respect. I am lucky to wear a T-shirt and track pants to work every day. I love my job.

photo(25)I am a wife. I met my husband at the gym (how clichéd!). We are learning how to be parents together. We push each other in our workouts, and we push each other to become better parents. We share duties, we share joys, we share challenges, and we share a passion for staying active.

I am a mother. My one-year-old son teaches me to have patience, to slow down, and to enjoy the simple things in life. He finds enjoyment in a paper box. He is delighted by a wooden spoon. My four-year-old daughter teaches me to have courage. She has a smile that lights up a room. She embodies happiness. Her special needs do not define who she is.

IMG_2420Bella was born with brain abnormalities. She has been diagnosed with global developmental delay, and more recently, with severe autism spectrum disorder. At four years old, she is cognitively at the level of a one-year old. We weren’t sure that she would ever be able to walk. I cried when she took her first steps at the age of two and a half years old.

When I train for races, I often feel like giving up. 15km into my workout, my legs start feeling heavy and tired. My brain is mentally exhausted. These physical and mental hills feel impossible to hurdle. When that happens, I think of my daughter. I think about how, at 4 years old, she has already endured countless physiotherapy, occupational, speech and language therapy sessions. I think about her courage, her perseverance, and her natural instinct to work hard to overcome her personal challenges. She teaches me that trials make life interesting. She inspires me to conquer my fears and to take on new obstacles.

IMG_3670My husband and I strive to give both of our children as many opportunities as we can. If it’s as simple as going to a new park, trying a new food that might end up on the floor, or even teaching Bella how to share a toy with her baby brother, we are ready to let both our children experience the good, the bad and the ugly. My husband and I enjoy sharing our active lifestyles with our children. We completed the Terry Fox run as a family for three years in a row, and now I want the whole family to participate in a triathlon.

IMG_1547_framedOn Saturday, June 1st, the Beaches Triathlon Club will be hosting its 9th Annual East End Kids of Steel Triathlon at the Birchmount Community Centre. The triathlon was born from the idea of wanting children to be physically active, with the support and involvement of their families. In its first year, this event hosted over 350 kids, most of whom had never been to a triathlon before. Each year thereafter, East End Kids of Steel has continued to grow.

This year, the Beaches Triathlon Club will be integrating kids with special needs. Bella and five of her friends from the Holland Bloorview Hospital Play & Learn Nursery School will be participating in a triathlon for the very first time. Their special needs range from cerebral palsy, to autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, and various physical disabilities. Although they all have very special needs and disabilities, they are nevertheless able to participate and to get active.

IMG_1559_framedChristina Kauffman, the organizer of the event, and I have been working very hard to not only promote this event, but also to bring awareness that all kids can do anything if they put their mind to it. I want to bring “visibility to disabilities” and show that kids and people of all abilities can be successfully integrated into this type of multi-sport event. I am sharing my journey as an athlete, teacher, wife and mother. I want to share this upcoming experience with others of how my daughter and her friends will be trying a tri for the very first time. I am looking for support to share our story with the media. I want to dispel the myths for kids with disabilities, and showcase our achievements from this event. I want others to learn and see that anything is possible.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing from you!


Andrea Haefele

If you are a parent of a child with special needs looking to connect with other parents, or if you are looking to participate in or promote this amazing event please connect with Andrea at the following email address:

5 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Bringing “Visibility to Disabilities” by Andrea Haefele

  1. Andrea Haefele says:

    Thanks Heather for sharing my story with your friends, family and followers! Hopefully this will connect me with someone out there! The power of sharing at its best!

  2. Sarah says:

    That is awesome, I did my first kids of steel many many years ago, and I hope that Bella has as much fun as I did.

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