Above photo: Walt Lawrence with Wendy, his wife of 30 years, and daughters Geneva and Abigail.
Almost 50 years after his life-changing accident, Walt Lawrence continues to defy the odds.
On May 16, the BC Rehab Foundation honoured Walt, a vent-dependent quadriplegic and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre peer counsellor, at the Gert Vorsteher Memorial Awards. This annual event celebrates people with disabilities who show remarkable determination towards pursuing their rehabilitation.
While all winners of the 2018 awards have extraordinary stories, special recognition was reserved for Walt and his years of inspiring service — all from a man who wasn’t supposed to live.
At the age of 17, Walt looked forward to a career as a professional athlete. He was offered a position to play hockey for a Kelowna team and was in that city when he decided to go for a swim. He dove into the lake and hit the sandy bottom, fracturing his second cervical vertebrae and instantly losing his ability to move his arms and legs and to breathe on his own.
Photo right: “GF Strong’s therapists, doctors and nurses have an amazing connection with their clients,” says Walt.
Walt wasn’t expected to survive, but he defied the odds and has redefined what it means to have a disability. He pursued a career in counselling and has been a professional peer counsellor at GF Strong for more than 20 years. His advocacy for people with disabilities has earned him an honorary doctorate of divinity from UBC’s Carey Theological College at UBC, and he has served on BC Rehab’s Board of Directors for 21 years.
“After my accident, I would have traded my life for anybody’s,” says Walt. “It was friends and family who brought me back into life. From that, l learned we all have a desire to contribute and if I could just offer a smile or an encouraging word, it could make a difference.”
“Walt makes people feel comfortable and shows them their lives aren’t over,” says Louisa Brideman, a former GF Strong client. “He and the rest of the GF Strong staff are absolutely amazing. They give the same quality of care to everyone they deal with no matter the challenges.”
Above photo: 2018 Gert Vorsteher Memorial Award winners (left to right) Walt Lawrence, Kristen Ursel, Richard Peter, Mezene Kebede, Louisa Brideman and Aaron Goodis. Not pictured: Kelly Brooks, Thomas Venos and Hunki (Peter) Yeo.
Walt shared the awards spotlight with eight other remarkable people and former GF Strong clients. Our congratulations to Walt and to his fellow 2018 Gert Vorsteher Memorial Award winners:
- Louisa Brideman
- Kelly Brooks
- Aaron Goodis
- Mezene Kebede
- Richard Peter
- Kristen Ursel
- Thomas Venos
- Hunki (Peter) Yeo