Jolan Wong: Finding Resiliency Through Sports

            Resiliency is one’s ability to overcome hardship. We all go through periods of darkness in our lives, but it’s your ability to remain standing, to grit your teeth, and to press on that shows the quality of your character. Easier said than done, I know. Naturally not everyone can keep taking hit after hit and not bear the scars of the battles they’ve fought. Indeed, even the most hardened individuals have a breaking point. Trauma, tragedy, and questions of existentialism leave wounds just as deep as any knife or bullet. Yet, it’s the ability to endure these hardships that creates strength in all of us. Some of the greatest heroes in history have endured struggle and hardships in some way shape or form, but what about the heroes of today? Who can we look to for inspiration when the heroes of the past are long buried? Who do we have as a beacon of light when it feels the world grows darker by the day?

            Jolan Wong was born in Edmonton, Alberta January 20th, 1990, and grew up in the small town of Vermillion, Alberta. Her love for sports began at a young age where she played a variety of different sports such as soccer and volleyball. However, at age 13 Jolan’s life would change when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her right leg, the same type of cancer of Canadian legend Terry Fox.   Sadly, she would have her right leg amputated as a result of her battle with cancer. Discussing her mindset at the time, the prospect of losing her life was not young Jolan’s main concern. “It never crossed my mind that I could possibly die, never crossed my mind at all.  It was losing my leg and not being able to play sports.” Despite her mind unburdened with the fear of death, Jolan still faced many challenges because of her diagnosis and subsequent amputation. “When I lost my leg, sports became very tough for me. Mentally and physically. I thought for a long time that sports aren’t gonna happen.” It took 9 months for Jolan’s leg to heal, however her longing for sports weighed heavily on her. “Being on crutches and seeing everyone else playing sports and running around, I was kind of left in the dust. That part was hard.”  

            Even when Jolan received her prosthetic leg, the hardships continued as she felt she wasn’t able to get back on her feet as quickly as she hoped to. “I just threw it across the room and thought I was never going to walk again.” It was in this moment however that something awakened within her. The passion for sports never left her, and it was that fire in her heart that pushed her forward through the darkness in her life. “My mindset changed pretty quick after that moment. I wanted to get back to sports, and I wanted to be back with my peers.” As soon as the doctor said she could return to sports Jolan began to search for something she could fall into. “I didn’t know about any adaptive sports or parasports when I had my amputation or prior to that because they were not well known, even now.” She started off with the sports her friends were doing at the time, which was hockey, but soon ran into another obstacle. “I rented the ice with my friends and thought I could just get on the ice, but I was like Bambi” she said with a laugh “I couldn’t feel where my prosthetic was, so we had two hockey sticks and my friends would just pull me.” In 2008, as Jolan entered Grade 12, her school’s volleyball coach informed her of a new program starting up in Canada. Having helped two athletes with amputations previously, her coach reached out to Volleyball Canada. Jolan tried out for the team, and it was here that she discovered her new love. Sitting Volleyball.

            Jolan Wong has played for the Canadian Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team ever since as the team’s libero. The team has gone on to win a number of accolades and attend tournaments in Canada and across the world. In 2015, now as the team’s Captain, Jolan led the Canadian Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team to a bronze medal at the Toronto Parapan Am Games. This paved the way for the team largest achievement at the time; qualification for Rio Paralympic Games in 2016. This also marks them in history as the first Canadian Sitting Volleyball team to qualify for the Paralympic Games. They would go on to place 7th at the Paralympics that year. In November 2022, Jolan and her team competed in the Sitting Volleyball World Championships in Sarajevo, Bosnia facing Brazil in the Finals. This only made the Canadian women hungrier as Brazil had previously beaten the team in the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020. In what was a stunning back-and-forth five set match, Jolan and her team would lose to Brazil in the finals, but they would bring home a silver medal for their incredible effort. However, this loss has not slowed the team’s drive. Commenting on what a substantial impact volleyball has made on her life, Jolan expressed love for the women that she shares her honor and passion for sports with. “I would never have met all these amazing women on my team that have overcome such hurdles like I have if it weren’t for playing volleyball. They’re all so special. They’re amazing.”

            As Canadian Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team continue down on their road to the Paris Paralympic Games set for 2024, Jolan reflects on what it’s been like to represent Canada on the world stage and the impact she has made on others. “It’s not just about representing Canada but representing women and representing women with disabilities. It’s about representing young kids, and young kids with disabilities. It’s about showing them what they can do and the goals they can reach if they just put their heart and their mind to something.” Much like our heroes of the past, Jolan Wong represents what it takes to not just be great at sports, but to endure life in the face of struggle. It is only through courageous hearts, and resilient minds that we can push ever forward to the lives we are destined to live. No matter what it takes, no matter the cost, the trials we face, or the losses we suffer. We must remain firm and unbroken in the face of an uncertain future. As the famous quote by Rocky Balboa goes, “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”


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