Javelin Technologies is now sponsoring a second world class athlete who is travelling the road to the Rio Olympics. She’s a down-to-earth, straight talking, upbeat Nova Scotian with a few shiny medals in her pocket and plenty of room for an Olympic gold.
Pam Lejean is Canada’s top female para-athlete in three field events: javelin, discus, and shotput. Her breakthrough season in 2015 included a gold in the shotput and bronze in the javelin at the Parapan American Games in Toronto. A few weeks later at the 2015 IPC World Championships, she grabbed the silver in the shotput. She is the Canadian record holder in javelin, shotput, and discus for the F53 (her para competition designation, based on her type of injury and mobility.)
In Rio, Pam will compete in shotput on September 12. The other two throwing events are not offered in her category at these Olympics so she’s focused on peak performance in one.
“It’s all still completely surreal, how I find myself here,” Pam says. “I travel so much, all over the world. I find myself competing in places like the Middle East – places I never would have travelled to otherwise.”
Lifting and liver
Of course, it’s hard work and devotion that brought her to this moment. Pam throws every second day, and trains in the gym on the alternate day. She typically takes Fridays off, but in the run-up to Rio, she is training every day. On throwing days, her coach meets her in Halifax around mid-morning, and she throws for up to two hours. The rest of a typical week might include appointments for massage therapy, sports psychology, physio, or a meeting with a dietician.
Speaking of food, Pam’s diet secret may not be what you’d expect (or even enjoy?) – it’s liver! To keep her iron levels up, as well as her energy, she eats liverwurst on rosemary crackers six days a week. Breakfast of champions, as they say!
Pam trains with a younger, up-and-coming track athlete named Casey Perrin, who is four years post-injury and has her sights set on the Tokyo games in 2020. Pam says she enjoys having a training partner, both when throwing and when in the gym. She trained for years on her own, without knowing the value of having a buddy there with her.
“It’s so nice to have another girl to train with, someone who is out there in the rain and snow with me. It helps a lot. She’s my number one girl and bit like my protégé.”
School days and first sports
Pam Lejean first got into sports in elementary school. Nearing six feet tall in grade 5, basketball was an obvious choice. Despite not being super competitive back then, she says she loved it – even sleeping with her basketball! She also tried competitive swimming, and performed noticeably well in her first meet. When another swimmer came to congratulate Pam on her impressive performance after training only a short time, and saying she’d been training for much longer, Pam felt so bad about beating her that she cried her eyes out when she got to her mom’s car! She vowed to stick to team sports where everyone wins or loses together. Insert winking emoji here, because just look at her now!
New pursuits post-injury
Pam talks about her journey in athletics as a “forced evolution.” In 2002, when she was 17, she injured her spinal cord in a car accident. In the early days afterward, although in and out of consciousness, she remembers just knowing she was paralyzed, not being told. She recognized that she had lost so much of who she was and what she knew – running in the woods, playing rugby, being active every day – and got focused on the hard work of rehab. She didn’t know what would come next, but wasn’t the type to be content with chilling out reading a book. Her physiotherapist, who was a swimmer, suggested that Pam try some time in the pool, and that relit the fire that once drove Pam. In a very short time, she was doing the butterfly, a stroke she had never mastered when able-bodied. Thinking big about attending the Athens Olympics, and pushing herself in her new pursuit, she developed devastating tendonitis in both shoulders and began to find it difficult to do everyday tasks like dressing herself.
“My parents sat me down and told me I had to take care of myself. Did I want to keep training like this or have a good quality of life? I had to make the wise choice and stop swimming.”
She turned her attention back to her education, graduating high school on time and heading to Cape Breton University. She’d always wanted to be an RCMP officer; plan B was a degree in communications and political science. Now, no offence to people working in windowless rooms editing press releases while wearing suits, but this was not the job for Pam.
Her mom suggested she try out wheelchair basketball, and again Pam rediscovered her love of sport. She got good and was eyeing a competitive career, but the tendonitis came back. Even picking up the remote control was excruciating.
It was then that she met a trainer who – after taking a look at Pam’s nearly six-foot wingspan – suggested she try throwing an indoor discus.
“On my very first throw, I hit the national standard,” she says. “It was probably the ugliest throw you’ve ever seen but it went really far!”
Her track sports – discus, shotput, and javelin – don’t put the stress of constant “tearing and thrashing” on her body. Training consists of throwing then resting, and heavy, slow lifting. In 2013, in her first year competing, Pam went to nationals and set new records, capturing three gold medals.
Pam says she “finds the positivity in everything” and lives her life as if people she loves and respects are always watching her. “I want to make them proud through my actions.”
She also shares that becoming too comfortable is a dangerous mindset and that we can all continue to “aim high,” no matter what we do in our lives.
“Don’t just go through the motions, even if you’re doing the same thing day in and day out, or not having your best day. If you spend one day doing that, and your competition spends the day giving 100%, you’ve fallen behind.”
Plans for Pam Lejean
Our east coast sponsored athlete will join us in October 2016 for a special appearance at Javelin’s Dartmouth location for the SOLIDWORKS launch event. We’ll also be working with her and Dalhousie University engineering students to come up with some 3D designs to help her house some of her equipment on her throwing chair.
Pam is pumped about having the support of everyone at Javelin. She says she’s never had a corporate sponsor get as involved with her as Javelin has already.
“It’s crazy to have all these people out there supporting me, whether it’s on social media, or by connecting me with the Dalhousie students to help me manage some inconveniences I’ve been living with. It means a lot.”
Follow Pam Lejean on Twitter (@PammyPam) and Instagram (@PammyLynne) and cheer her on! The Paralympic Games run from September 7 through 18 in Rio. Canada is expected to send a team of approximately 155 athletes, participating in 19 sports. For more info, check out paralympic.ca and sign up to get Canadian Paralympic news and updates by email.