Victoria Feige was 18 and snowboarding during spring break in 2004 when she overshot a jump and landed so hard that shards of bone in her spine were crushed and exploded. Everything went tingly and numb from the waist down.

At first she thought she had broken a leg and then broken a pelvis. Then she realized it was her back.

In the crash, Feige fractured vertebrae along her lower spine. That left her partially paralyzed and able to feel only a bit of sensation below where the injury occurred.

“I come from a medical family and I was like, ‘Oh dear, I really screwed up,’” Feige, now 38, says in a video call from Vancouver. “But I didn’t expect to have a permanent injury.

“My feet are adorable but useless,” she adds with a laugh.

Feige is the best woman in the world at paralympic surfing. She has won four consecutive world championships on the International Surfing Association and is currently top-ranked in her division on the Association of Adaptive Surfing Professionals World Tour.

At events she abandons her wheelchair and crawls from the edge of the sand to the ocean while pushing her five-foot-plus surfboard alongside her. Once in the water she is a strong paddler and swimmer and through exhaustive rehab learned to climb onto her knees and kneels as she chases a wave.

“Often times for people that are in wheelchairs it is isolating,” Feige says. “You go to a concert and there is a special place to sit. But when I am in the water it is where I feel the most free. I can go anywhere I want.

“I am equal. There is no tokenness and no special treatment.”

Feige was born in Calgary but moved to Vancouver as a toddler. She loves the outdoors, learned to ski at 3, started snowboarding at 8, skateboarding at 11 and skim boarding on the tidal flats in Vancouver after that.

“I liked the risk, I liked the rush, I liked to be in the air,” she says. “I have two older brothers and for as long as I can remember I loved rough-and-tumble sports and still do.”

At 16, she begged her mother to take her surfing in Tofino for her birthday, took one lesson and fell in love.

“I was hooked from the first wave,” Feige says.

At the time of her injury, she was training to become a backcountry skiing tour guide. It wasn’t until she had major surgery that she realized that would be impossible.

“Certainly I had a huge sense of loss in that I would never be able to do this as a paraplegic or even with partial paralysis,” Feige says. “But the other thing I had a sense of loss about, and felt that I was never going to be able to do, was surfing.

“When I first got injured, I knew you had to be strong in the water, you need strength and skill. I mean, how was I even going to get over the sand. I thought, ‘How could I ever be a real surfer?’”

She was unable to participate in impact-level sports until her spine healed. Two years later, she travelled to Hawaii and surfed again for the first time with an instructor to make sure she would be safe.

“We went tandem at first and it was so much fun,” she says.

At one point, as he held her by the feet, she did a handstand on her board. She figured she could still surf a little bit for fun, but never competitively.

She went on to become a physical therapist in B.C. and Hawaii and is among only a few wheelchair users to do so. In her second year of graduate school at the University of British Columbia she was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Canadian Physiotherapy Congress so she could explain how she does it.

She wears ankle braces that allow her to stand for short periods to perform lumbar manipulations. She also is able to do some treatments while seated on a stationary stool or while she kneels beside clients. She has worked with stroke victims to help them regain their gait.

“Functionally I became a wheelchair user, but if you take away some of the emotion it then becomes a matter of problem solving,” Feige says. “People focus on my surfing but for me becoming a good clinician was the biggest mountain to climb and really became my focus for 10 years or so.

“I love the analysis of movement and I like working with people. If you really love something you can often find a way to have it in your life.”

In 2016 a friend who is also in a wheelchair and likes to surf texted her and asked if she wanted to travel to California to watch the International Surfing Association’s world para championships. A few days later she was in La Jolla, Calif., and actually entered the event.

“It is kind of a wild story,” Feige says. “I had done one disabled surfing event and when I got there there were lots of volunteers and people that put you in a beach chair and carried you into the water and people clapped and that was it.

“This was a four-day thing. I was so excited to be in the ocean I blew all of my energy on the first day and then I competed and finished next-to-last. But I was astounded by some of the other surfers and it really changed my perspective about what adaptive surfing could be and what was possible for myself.”

She has taken the past year and a half off from work to train on Hawaii’s north shore and travels to competitions. Rip Curl, a surfing company, helps pay for her gear and used its credit-card points last year to help pay some of her travel expenses.

A couple of years ago, she sold her small place in Vancouver and has also used those funds to further her career and to help pay medical costs.

“I just love it and I love the people, too,” Feige says. “They all have wild stories about catastrophic injuries – shark attacks, car and motorcycle accidents or snowboards or skiing or skydiving. They have had such serious injuries but are just so full of life. I found my community.”

About a year and a half ago she was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

“It is going to be okay,” she says. She is halfway through a three-year treatment protocol. “I am responding and am cancer free. When it happened, it changed my priorities from ‘I am young and strong and healthy-ish’ to ‘I am going to pursue surfing at the highest level.’

“I have to seize the moment.”

Source The Globe and Mail

Canada’s Victoria Feige celebrates after winning gold in the women’s kneel division for her fourth straight world title at the 2022 ISA Para surfing world championship on Dec. 10 in Pismo Beach, Calif. (CSA Surf Canada)

Victoria Feige is an athlete in uncharted waters.

The 37-year-old from Vancouver made history earlier this month by becoming the first female Para surfer to win four world titles, putting her at the forefront of a rapidly growing sport.

With four straight gold medals at the sport’s premier event, Feige is leading the charge as Para surfing reaches new heights and progresses toward Paralympic inclusion.

“I keep on competing because I love it, I love the community, and I feel like I have further to go. It’s exciting,” Feige told CBC Sports.

Feige grew up in the fast world of board sports — whether it was on the snow, pavement or water. She began surfing at the age of 16 in Tofino, B.C., instantly falling in love with the sport.

“I loved it from my first wave. The burst of speed and the acceleration, being in the ocean, I knew I loved surfing,” Feige said.
Canadian Para surfer Victoria Feige makes history by winning 4th world title

The embodiment of resilience, Feige rose to the top of her sport after initially thinking her surfing dreams were over following a life-changing injury.

She sustained a traumatic spinal fracture and spinal cord injury while snowboarding at 18, leaving her partially paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. But Feige seized an opportunity with Para surfing — a second chance to pursue her passion — and the results have been nothing short of incredible.

Feige has been surfing for Team Canada since 2016, winning her first world title just three years later. Her latest world championship victory in Pismo Beach, Calif., made her the winningest woman in Para surfing history.

“It’s amazing. I never thought this would happen. After my spinal cord injury, I never thought that I could surf at a high level. It’s been a wonderful, joyous surprise to progress in my surfing, and also do so well in the competitions,” Feige said.
Adaptive surfing community

Feige says she would not have achieved her success without the help of the adaptive surfing community, which helped her develop into a world champion while showing her what was possible in the sport.

Feige was shocked by the level of skill on display at her first Para surfing world championship in 2016, and it changed her perspective about what she could accomplish on a surfboard after her injury.

“I had a sense of loss that I wouldn’t be able to surf at a high level,” Feige said. “When I saw that adaptive surfers could really push the limits and do more progressive manoeuvres … that really changed my perspective about what was possible.”

The adaptive surfing community also helped guide Feige with one-one-one coaching when she was new to the sport, paving the way for her quick progression.

“Even though we compete against each other, we all help each other too. So a lot of coaching has been informally from the other adaptive surfers,” Feige said.

Competing in the women’s kneel division, Feige took her game to a new level in 2022. She won every competition leading up to her record-setting world title, including the Hawaii adaptive surfing championships in June and the English adaptive surfing open in July in Bristol, England.

Relocating to Hawaii

Feige lives and breathes surfing, which is why she relocated to Hawaii in 2021 to master her craft on the best waves, continuing to push the sport forward.

“I moved to the North Shore of Oahu, which is surfing Mecca, and I’m 10 minutes away from some of the best waves in the world. While I am young and strong and have this moment to really pursue surfing at the highest level, I want to keep going and see how far I can go,” Feige said.

Feige says the move has helped her development in multiple ways, with easy beach access and no shortage of challenging waves to sharpen her skills.

“Hawaii is both a training ground and a proving ground. You can drive anywhere on the island and probably find something to surf. So I surf much more often, I’m trying different boards,” Feige said.

“It’s easier in warm water rather than in colder Tofino, which is not as accessible in terms of beaches.”

There is also a thriving adaptive surfing community on Oahu, giving Feige plenty of friends to surf with every day as she continues to chase her dreams.

“I love Canada but moving to Hawaii to train in surfing has been a really good idea,” Feige said.

Paralympic dream

Feige is excited to help the sport grow, with the ultimate goal of Paralympic inclusion in 2028.

While able-bodied surfing made its Olympic debut last year in Tokyo, Para surfing is currently not part of the Paralympic program. The sport won’t be at the Paris Paralympics in 2024, but the International Surfing Association (ISA) is pushing for the sport to make its debut at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, with a decision expected in the new year.

Along with the chance to compete for Paralympic gold, Feige knows Paralympic inclusion would also bring much-needed funding for Canada’s Para surfing team.

Surf Canada has been supportive in recent years — including sending national surf team head coach Shannon Brown to work with Canada’s adaptive team at worlds — but there is only so much money to go around.

“One of the reasons we want Para surfing in the Paralympics is that then there will be funding for the competitions,” Feige said.

The sport is at a pivotal time in its development, and Feige wants to see it reach its full potential on the biggest international stage with full financial support from national federations.

“If it gets into the Paralympics, all of our Para surf communities and all of the national surf federations will either get more money or set aside some funds to support their Para athletes. Surf Canada has been very supportive of me, but it would be really great to have training camps and flights and accommodations paid for,” Feige said.

Paying it forward

A true ambassador for Para surfing, Feige wants to help get new people — particularly women — into the exciting sport.

Canada had a small five-member team at the 2022 world championship, but Feige hopes to see that number grow moving forward.

“If there are people with or without disabilities who want to get into surfing, I hope they know that it’s possible. No matter what the age, no matter what their background, or if they have a disability like mine or not, I hope that they know that surfing is for everyone, the ocean is for everyone,” Feige said.

Above all else, Feige wants to make newcomers feel as welcome as the community made her feel back in 2016, something that made all the difference on her athletic journey.

“People helped me when I was new, and that’s partly why I could have such incredible results. So if I can pay it forward, I absolutely want to do that,” Feige said.

Accessible surfing offers safe way to ride the waves

The sport’s bright future was on full display at worlds this month, with seven new world champions and a plethora of young talent in every division.

Along with the kneel division, Para surfers also compete in visually impaired, stand, sit and prone divisions, with a group of judges determining the final scores.

Canadian teammate Ling Pai, also from Vancouver, won her third bronze medal in the women’s visually impaired division, while compatriot Nathan Smids made it to the semifinals in the men’s stand division.

The seventh edition of the ISA event was the biggest to date with 181 competitors, and Feige has been happy to see female representation grow since her debut six years ago. She is excited to see the level of competition continue to rise.

“It’s going to be really exciting in the next few years to see how the level of adaptive surfing progresses, and to see all the new faces that are coming up and will hopefully shock the world,” Feige said.

Source- cbc sports

Her Story

Victoria grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and learned to surf at age 16 in Tofino. She also enjoyed snowboarding, skimboarding, skateboarding, and playing soccer. Though she had years of experience snowboarding, at age 18, she overshot a jump and landed badly from 12-15 feet in the air. She sustained a spinal fracture and a low incomplete spinal cord injury.

Undeterred, Victoria returned to skiing and surfing a year later as a sit-skier and adaptive surfer with partial paralysis. She trained hard to become an accomplished para surfer and sit-skier, becoming an adaptive instructor in both sports. She found the adaptive surfing community and started competing in 2016. After only a few years on the competitive surf scene, she has become four-time ISA world champion and Guinness World Record holder for winningest female para surfer.

In addition to her surfing, Victoria is also North America’s first clinical physiotherapist who uses a wheelchair. She graduated with her Masters in 2012, and worked as a specialized physiotherapist for a decade. She has taken a break to focus on her sport. Victoria aspires to raise the level of para surfing with airs and barrels, help grow the sport, and surf for gold the Paralympics.