|NAME: Lisa Marie Franks
BIRTHDATE: April 6, 1982
SPECIALTY: 800, 1500 meter races
COACH: Clayton Gerein
HOMETOWN: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
RESIDENCE: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Winning the 800 meter in Sydney, 2000
FAVORITE QUOTE: "It's something unpredictable but in the end is right, I hope you had the time of your life." -Green Day
OCCUPATION: Mechanical Engineer
PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: Your attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference & turn obstacles into opportunities!
NICKNAMES: Froggy, Thumper, LIYB, Snowplow, Nasty Weiner Dog
|Hello, and thank you for visiting this website. Let me introduce myself - my name is Lisa Franks, I was born and raised in Moose Jaw, and I am twenty four years old. I would like to share my story with you, so sit back, strain your eyes, and read on.
As you may already know, I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I competed in Sydney at the 2000 Paralympics. For you to truly appreciate what the experience meant to me, you have to know how the journey began. From a very early age, I demonstrated a love for sport. I remember following my three older brothers down double black diamonds when we were skiing, and the times my eyes would water when we played baseball because they threw the ball so hard my hand would sting for days. Growing up with three much older brothers and two active parents provided me with plenty of opportunities to participate in sports.
As time passed, I exhausted all my energy into improving as an athlete. I played every sport you could imagine, but I felt the most comfortable on the basketball court. I spent hundreds of hours on our driveway shooting freethrows, practicing my lay-ups, and progressing as a player. My hopes were that someday I would be able to play basketball against the best players in the world.
Just weeks after my school basketball team won the City Championship, my perfect world came crashing down. I remember getting ready to go to bed one night (April 18, 1996) and feeling very tired. Something just didn’t feel 'right'. I thought I just needed a good night's rest, so off I went to sleep in my basement bedroom. A few hours later I woke up and realized that something was terribly wrong. I could not stand up when I tried to get out of bed. I tried desperately to move my legs, but they just wouldn't budge. I tried to holler for someone to help, but my parents were sound asleep two floors above me. Realizing that the situation was serious, I made the decision to crawl upstairs and attempt to wake my parents. I slowly used my upper body to lower myself to the floor and I dragged myself to the stairs. One by one, I lifted myself up the stairs until I had reached the main floor of our two-story house. The whole process was extremely slow and exhausting. I decided to have a rest before heading up to the top floor of the house. I had planned on catching my breath and then moving on, but I somehow fell asleep lying on the kitchen floor. When I woke up again, I hoped that the last few hours would turn out to be a dream. No such luck. I found that my condition had continued to deteriorate as I slept. Now I was completely paralyzed from the waist down. I collected myself, and set out for the second staircase. Luckily, I didn't have to go far because my brother arrived home from working the nightshift at around three in the morning. I told him that there was something wrong with my legs, and asked him if he would go wake mom and dad. He gave me a look that said he didn't quite believe me, but nevertheless he did as I asked. My parents came downstairs with a look of worry in their eyes. After explaining to them that something was really wrong with me, my dad suggested we go to the hospital. I was carried out to the car, but before my dad sat me in the seat, he tried to get me to stand. My legs collapsed under my weight and he had to catch me before I hit the ground.
When I arrived at the hospital, we had to wait for the doctor to be called in. When he arrived, I could tell that he was not happy to be woken up at four in the morning. I tried to explain that I felt tingly all over and that I couldn't walk. He tried some exercises with my legs and found that they were indeed very weak. Finally I was going to get some answers.
Again - no such luck. My parents were told that there was nothing wrong with me and that I was most likely 'acting up' for attention. I could not believe this! The doctor told us to go home. My mother is a nurse, and she didn't know what was going on, so she convinced the doctor to make an appointment with a specialist. The doctor finally agreed and said he would phone us at home later.
Back at home, I slept on the couch for a few hours. Later in the morning the doctor phoned and said that he had made an appointment for me to see a specialist - NEXT WEEK! My mother said that this was unacceptable and that we were coming back to the hospital. We loaded into the car again and drove back to the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital there was a big fuss and we were told that we should go to the hospital in Regina - about 45 minutes away. By this time, I had lost even more function and things were really looking gloomy. There were problems with my nervous system. I was burning up with a fever on half of my body, and the other side was ice cold. I must have been in shock by this point because I vaguely remember the next events.
We sped all the way to Regina and when we arrived there was another fuss. It seemed that the hospital in Moose Jaw had not notified the Regina hospital that we were coming and they were not going to admit me. Eventually they agreed to see me, but we waited hours for any news. I was poked and prodded with every instrument imaginable. Nobody had any clue what was wrong with me. One idea was that I had Meningitis, so I had a spinal tap done (one of the most painful things I've ever been through). That came back negative. Finally a doctor had the bright idea to have an MRI done, and I was taken away for more tests. When I returned from the MRI, my parents were nowhere in sight and I was left all alone on a stretcher in the emergency room. It seemed like I stayed there for hours, but in reality I have no idea how long it was. I would call out for someone but nobody ever came.
When my mom finally did return she had a very grim look on their face. My condition was very critical. At this point my arms were beginning to get weak. I learned that I had something very rare known as an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), and that I would need an emergency operation. I was told very little about the situation. I later learned that an AVM is a cluster of blood vessels that didn't form right. The blood did not flow through the vessels properly, and because I was so active, pressure built up in the vessels. Eventually the pressure got too high, and there was nowhere for the blood to go. The AVM is most common in the brain, but in my case it was located on the spinal cord. When the pressure built up the cluster exploded and it caused damage to the spinal cord. This accounted for the gradual loss of function and the problems with my nervous system.
As I was prepped for surgery, my parents called my three older brothers and told them to get to the hospital immediately. The doctors made the suggestion that we should all gather before the surgery and say 'good-bye' to each other. We were told that the chance I would make it through surgery was very slim. The frustration and fear gripped my family. There was so much uncertainty and so many unanswered questions. I remember asking if I was going to die just before I was wheeled into the operating room. By the look on everyone's face I knew there was a good chance that could happen. In the last minutes that I spent with my family before I was taken into the operating room, I realized just how precious life really is, and how often it is taken for granted. My only hope was that it was not too late to change my outcome.
I woke up from that eight-hour operation in Intensive Care unable to move , dependant on a ventilator to breathe for me, and in an intense amount of pain. But somehow I was glad to be alive. Despite the pain and the confusion, I was generally upbeat. I didn't really understand the severity of my situation. As the days passed - and the medication wore off- I realized just how difficult the next few months would be. I was told that I would never walk again, and that there was a very good chance I would remain a quadriplegic.
I spent the next few weeks hooked up to machines in the Intensive Care ward in Regina. I was paralyzed from the neck down and completely dependent on other people to help me with even the simplest of tasks. I had blood pressure problems, and whenever they tried to sit me up, I would get light-headed and almost faint. My face was swollen. I was feverish. I was in an intense amount of pain because they were trying to reduce the amount of morphine in my body. I had to be turned every hour to prevent sores. Each position change initiated a jolt of pain that traveled through my body and seemed unbearable. I hated the way I felt and looked. I didn't allow any of my friends to see me because I knew they would look at me with pity. I only allowed a select group of people to come see me, and I wasn't much company because I was in so much pain.
I was frustrated, angry, and utterly hopeless. I spent many hours asking questions like "Why did this happen to me?", and "What did I do wrong in my life to deserve this?". I was very unhappy and at times I wished that I had not made it through the operation.
I was moved to the Wascana Rehab Center in Regina in May. I began intensive occupational and physiotherapy. I would spend all morning trying to use my fine motor skills in my hands, and in the afternoon I would work on strengthening my shoulder and arm muscles. It was hard work, but I found it comforting because progress was being made - slowly but surely.
During the many, many, many hours that I spent in the hospital, I had the opportunity to discover who the true ‘Lisa Franks’ is. I thought about my past and what I had accomplished. I was disappointed when I realized that I really had not achieved much with my life. I had not helped other people, I had not made a difference in anyone’s life, and I had not truly lived every moment to the fullest extent possible. This realization upset me. I had always said that when the day arrives that I leave this earth, I want to have few regrets, and I want to know that I had accomplished something. I made it a goal to do something with my life. The first step towards this goal was a new attitude. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to look for the silver in every cloud. I decided to focus all of my attention on regaining the use of my upper body.
|Rehab can be a very frustrating situation. You literally lose any dignity you had when you came, and for a shy person like myself it can be very trying. But I learned many little tricks that helped me achieve the goal of independence. When enough function returned in my arms, I was given a universal cuff. It's a strap that holds a fork for someone who does not have enough strength to grip the utensil. One particular memory I recall is the triumph I felt when I ate my first chocolate bar without the help of a single person. To any onlookers, the situation must have been extremely funny….the only way I could eat was by lying flat on my back, having someone place the chocolate bar on my face, and then using the limited function in my arms to shove the bar in my mouth. It took nearly half an hour to eat that chocolate bar, and you can imagine how much of the chocolate had melted on my face by that time, but I was ecstatic because it gave me hope. To this day, I have never had anything taste as sweet as that Crispy Crunch.
With every other little victory, I began to believe in my abilities and myself once again. It’s amazing when a simple task such as enjoying a chocolate bar can bring so much to look forward to.
I spent several months in Wascana, and eventually I recovered enough function in my upperbody to push myself in a wheelchair. Then came other milestones - I learned how to transfer from a bed to my chair, learned how to dress myself again (quite a feat!), and I even managed to learn how to do 'wheelies'.
At the end of the summer I was able to leave Wascana and I returned home to Moose Jaw. I was glad to be back at home and I enjoyed spending time with the friends that I had not seen for so many months. Eventually my thoughts turned to school.
The transition into high school can be dramatic for anyone, but for myself it was terrifying. I had to change my plans to attend Central Collegiate so that I could go to the only wheelchair accessible school in the city. This meant that I had to enter a new school where I didn't know anyone, and I had to deal with the uncertainty that I would not be accepted.
Somehow I made it through my first year of high school, but it was not easy. I buried myself in my schoolwork and achieved the highest average at my school, but I was still very unhappy. I lacked confidence and I wanted more out of life.
The thing I am most grateful for is the day that I was introduced to a man named Clayton Gerein. For those of you who have never heard of Clayton, he is a Paralympic athlete who has won numerous awards and honors. He approached me and asked if I would like to give wheelchair sports an attempt. I desperately missed being active so of course I jumped at the chance. Poor Clayton had know idea what he had gotten himself into. I started playing full contact rugby. Rugby is a mixture of hockey and football where the intent of the game is to bash the heck out of your opponents. Believe me, the game was wonderful for taking out my frustrations. But somehow the idea of grown men smashing their chairs into me to see how far I would fly didn’t quite appeal to me. After a year or two of hearing my teammates exclaim "Boy, she darn near flew ten feet on that hit", I made the transition into wheelchair racing.
The change that I went through within a few short months was absolutely remarkable. I had rediscovered the passion for sport that I had enjoyed for so many years. I also managed to enjoy the rest of my time at school. I developed friendships I never thought possible, and make many everlasting memories. Finally I had a reason to believe in myself and I had a goal to focus on. What was that goal? It was a dream that I had carried in the back of my mind since the time that I was three years old and I picked up my first basketball. I had always been too afraid to say my thoughts out loud because they sounded so unattainable. But this time something was different. I realized that if I could adjust to being in a wheelchair, anything was possible. Before my injury I had never realized that every person, including myself had such incredible strength. This time I was not afraid to say my dream out loud because I truly believed in myself. So I did it, I was truthful with myself and announced what I had been dreaming of since before I could remember. I wanted to compete against the best athletes in the world.
I had the dream, I had the belief in myself, now all I needed was the support. It wasn’t very hard to find. In 1997, I told my parents that I wanted to be at the 2000 Games in Sydney. They didn’t bat an eye. You see, when I played sports before, I used to get a look of determination whenever the competition was close. My family commonly referred to it as the "Lisa Look", and whenever it would sneak in during a competition, my opponents knew they were in trouble. When I told my parents my goal, they simply said "Go for it, and let us know if there is anything we can do to help." I later found out that the reason they were so compliant was because something that had been missing for years was present. I had the "Lisa Look".
I had all the ingredients needed in the recipe for success. There was nothing that could stop me from reaching my objective. I trained extremely hard for three years, gaining momentum in the international racing scene with each competition. Being involved in sports again filled an enormous void in my life. I’ll be the first to admit that it was not always easy. Some days were tough. As I’m sure you are aware, the weather in Saskatchewan is not always pleasant. The day that I got caught in a hailstorm, or the many times I had to wear my parka and electric socks come to mind. But I knew that if I worked hard it would eventually pay off.
Between the summers of 1997 and 2000, I competed all over North America, as well as in Europe and Australia. I set world records in the 400, 1500, and 5000 meter races. Then came the biggest opportunity in my racing career. I attended the trials for the 2000 Paralympic Games. The trials went off without a hitch and finally my dream became a reality. I was named to the Canadian Paralympic team.
In October of 2000 I flew to Sydney for my Paralympic debut, and the most incredible three weeks in my life. The Paralympic Games are the equivalent to the Olympics for the world’s top athletes with a disability. They are also a source of great inspiration for people from all walks of life. I found myself being inspired by the genuine enthusiasm and zest for life that all of the athletes shared. It was a celebration of our abilities and we had no reason to focus on our disabilities.
I started my competition by winning gold in the 800 meter race. I received my medal and as the national anthem began to play I was overcome with emotion. I kept thinking about how far I had come. Just four years earlier I was lying in a hospital bed completely paralyzed, but at that moment I was on top of the world. The rest of my experience in Sydney flew by in a whirlwind of competitions, autographs, and interviews. I returned home with four gold medals and one silver – far better that I had expected. The best part of the whole experience was that I was finally able to say that I had accomplished something I once thought unattainable.
The time that I spent in Sydney was unforgettable, but it didn’t prepare me for what I was in store for when I arrived in Canada. When I returned to Moose Jaw, the city presented me with a key to the city, named a week after me, and they even threw a parade in my honor. I was eighteen, and had accomplished my goal. I turned my sights to school, and working towards completing my mechanical engineering degree. But my athletic career was far from over. My next goal was to complete something I call the world record sweep. That is, world records in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5000 and marathon.
When I returned from Athens, I realized that I had accomplished everything I had set out to do with wheelchair racing. I found it hard to get motivated to train, because I knew that I would only be racing my own times, and that there weren’t enough competitors close enough to push me. So I decided I needed a new challenge, something that would motivate me and would help me better myself as a person.
My thoughts led me to the hours and hours of enjoyment I had on my parents driveway practicing my free throws and pretending I was Michael Jordan. I decided to turn my focus to wheelchair basketball. It certainly would be a challenge to crack the women’s national team line up. For the last two years I have been training for basketball. In 2005 I was invited to a tryout for the national team, where I faired alright and I earned the spot of an alternate to the team. This gave me more incentive as I continued to work away at my goal.
My skills have continued to progress, and I was once again invited to the national team selection camp in May 2006. I was selected as the first woman from Saskatchewan to be named to the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball team. In July the national team headed to Amsterdam, and I proudly wore the maple leaf on my jersey as Team Canada fought to defend the title of World Champions that was won in 2002. The tournament lived up to the expectations I had, and it was a hard fight to make it to the final. Germany sent us into double overtime during the semi-finals, but luckily we held on and were the victors. We faced the USA, defending Paralympic Champions from 2004, in the final. We dominated the game and became the Champions of the World!
My life has been incredibly busy attending speaking engagements and community events. Recent highlights include having lunch with the Queen, being named “The Greatest Moose Javian” (similar to the Greatest Canadian show), appearing as a guest on the Vicki Gabereau Show, and skydiving out of a plane in Australia. Right now, I am working fulltime as an engineer in Saskatoon, and training six days a week to hopefully bring Canada more gold from Beijing 2008.
I have been through many tough times, but I remain optimistic. I am not a bitter person, and I seriously don't understand it when people say I am
If you have read this far - Congratulations! I am going to end this story, but I'm sure in the future there will be much more to tell. I would just like to end by saying that everyone is capable of incredible things. It all depends on a little thing called an ATTITUDE. I would also like to restate my favorite quote: "It's something unpredictable but in the end is right, I hope you had the time of your life." - Green Day
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