Whether it’s by water or on land, Nathan Clement is determined to keep moving while sharing a positive message for others living with disabilities.
The former Paralympian and West Vancouver resident has just returned from an 11-day bike trip across southern British Columbia.
The 1,000-kilometre cycling trip from Fernie to Ambleside Park came with its requisite trials and tribulations, but also a lot of take-your-breath-away moments, says Clement.
“Now that it’s been a few days since coming back, the body is slowly coming back to where it was before,” he jests. “I’m feeling pretty good. It was an absolutely incredible experience.”
Clement has defied the odds. When he was just two years old, he suffered a stroke which caused him to lose mobility on one side of his body.
That didn’t stop him from pursuing athletics from a young age. Eventually, he found his way into the pool and became a competitive swimmer while in high school, joining the West Vancouver Otters Swim Club before nabbing the attention of Canada’s national Paralympic team.
“As a person with disability, I’ve been very fortunate my whole life to have great people around me who’ve always supported my goals and my dreams. It’s given me the confidence ever since I was little to take on sport, take on challenges, and even led me to a Paralympic Games in 2016,” says Clement.
Clement placed seventh in the Paralympic S6 men’s 50-metre butterfly at the Rio Games, setting a new Canadian record for that race.
When the North Shore News interviewed Clement days after his return from Rio in 2016, he said he was preparing for the 2020 Games.
Fast-forward to the actual year 2020 – a year that hasn’t gone as planned for anyone – and Clement admits he made a radical decision a few years ago after that initial 2016 pronouncement: he retired from competitive swimming.
“It was an interesting decision to say the least. I got a little bit of blowback but overall I thought it was the right decision to do,” he says. “I needed to take a new direction in my life.”
He did what any young person in search of something new is apt to do – he went backpacking.
While travelling the world full-time and taking in its exotic sights and sounds, he had a thought. “It would be so cool to take on these places by bicycle,” he recalls thinking.
This year, the place to take on was British Columbia. Clement, now 25, spent the last few months training for his ride from Fernie to Ambleside Park, a journey he set forth on on Aug. 18.
He went through trails and alongside rivers, he saw the East Kootenays and Cranbrook, he visited the Arrows Lake region, and he experienced plenty of high mountain passes along the way.
“I even did the Grey Creek path, which has a nice difficult 1,000-m ascent in the final 17 kms of the climb,” he says. “This summer, with the borders being closed, I thought it would be the perfect time to see the southern regions of my province.”
But the journey wasn’t just about taking on a new athletic challenge.
“I want to tell stories about what can be done with a physical impairment, with a disability, and showing what can be done when you put your mind to what you believe,” he says.
Although Clement doesn’t exactly know when or if he’ll jump headfirst into cycling at the competitive level in the future, for now he’s content to just keep moving, on land or water, while making sure others living with a disability know they can accomplish a lot with the right mindset and some positive supports.
“Living with a disability, there’s so many ways you can adapt and just learn to do what you can.”