Alumni Profile: Linda Cairns, Badmin '79
“When I was asked if I would consider being profiled in the “Alumni in the Spotlight” feature I initially thought, why would they want to profile me? However, upon reflecting on my life after graduation, I realized it was during my time at Lakehead that early opportunities afforded themselves, which eventually led to bigger accomplishments and additional opportunities in my life.”
Linda Cairns was born in Port Arthur, Ontario, as it was called then, now the north side of Thunder Bay, and was only two pounds when she was born. Due to her small birth weight she was the first baby to use the incubator in St. Joseph’s Hospital:
“I think that set the stage for me, because I fought to stay alive and all through my life it has been my determination which has brought me to where I am today.”
As a result of her weight and being premature Linda has Cerebral Palsy, but because of her parents’ strength and philosophy of life, she never let that stop her. They raised her “like every other child.” She attended to St. Andrew’s Public School, St. Ignatius Highschool and Port Arthur Collegiate Institute. Water therapy was used when Linda was young to help strengthen her leg muscles and she loved the water. At the family summer camp she would pretend, swimming in Lake Superior, that she was an Olympic Swimmer. Little did she know then the huge role athletics would hold for her future.
Linda spent a lot of time in hospital due to numerous surgeries when she was growing up and so, when deciding what career path to follow, she knew she wanted to become a nurse. It wasn’t until this point in her life that her disability truly became an obstacle, as she was told she would not be able to be accepted into the Nursing Program, so Linda instead chose the Bachelor of Administration Program, majoring in Health Services. Linda attended Lakehead University from 1976 to 1979. While attending Lakehead University, she met Dr. Jim Widdop, who would have a major influence on her life. He encouraged her to get involved with the Games for the Physically Disabled and introduced her to two amazing people; her coaches, Dr. Mary Bluechardt and Mr. James Hood, who became instrumental in her athletic career and remain lifelong friends.
She competed throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in a number of different sports, including swimming, basketball, and weight lifting, at various levels of competition. Linda won over twenty medals in swimming alone, including many at the regional level. She was twice voted Best CP Athlete for her events, and also twice garnered the title of Top Female Athlete at the Regional Games. As a provincial competitor until 1995, Linda won 15 gold, 9 silver, and 2 bronze medals, breaking records along the way. Her accomplishments earned her an Achievement Award from the province in 1987 and she was also named the Ontario CP Athlete of the Year in 1991. Not surprisingly, Linda shone on the national scene as well, taking 3 gold medals at the first Cerebral Palsy Sports National Championships, and setting a Canadian record at the Canadian Foresters National Games with 18 medals. In 1993, she represented Canada at the International Cup in France and captured a bronze medal, before retiring competitively in 1995. Along the way she has been a coach, role model to many athletes, and Vice-President of the Superior Athletics Club. Linda was inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame on September 26th, 1998.
Lakehead University was a wonderful place to go to school, says Linda: “In the Bachelor of Administration Program we were a small class and we all became very close. I did not want to go away to school at the time and it was wonderful that I was able to attend a post secondary institution in my hometown. Not only were the students close, but Lakehead is wonderful for the fact that we knew all of our professors personally as well. I remember my first - year Christmas exams; I woke up the day of the exam and had a very high fever and was very ill. I was bound and determined that I was going to write the exam. My father called the professor’s office and explained the situation and the professor responded and said that it wasn’t a problem - I could come to his office over the Christmas holidays and write the exam. I don’t know if that would have happened in a larger institution!”
Linda had planned to work in Hospital Administration upon graduation, but the path she took was quite different. She has worked in program development and management in the area of services for persons with a disability throughout her professional career. She established, and was Assistant Administrator for, the Nipigon Association for Community Living Life Skills Program. Linda also worked for the City of Thunder Bay Parks and Recreation Integration Services, as well as established, and was Managing Director of, the Independent Living Centre in Thunder Bay from 1987-1998. During that time she was fortunate enough to travel to the Caribbean to work with advocacy organizations to ensure that all citizens with a disability were provided with equal opportunities. It was during this time at the ILRC that Linda met her husband Arthur, and together they have a wonderful son, Ian. She continues to sit on various committees which work for the inclusion of persons with disabilities and strives for better future acceptance:
“I hope that there will be a time when my son will not see peoples’ disabilities, but will be able to live in an environment where people are fully included as contributing members of society and their abilities and achievements are celebrated. I know he will live this philosophy because he does not see me as a person with a disability he just sees me as Mom!”
Linda is now a competitive wheelchair curler and her dream is to win the Canadian Championships that will be held in Thunder Bay in 2012. As well, she plans to spend as much time as she can with family, travel, enjoy summers at their camp on Lake Superior, and watch her son grow and achieve his dreams. She credits Lakehead University with providing her with the skills to take life events and develop them into meaningful programs, saying:
“I learned how to communicate my experiences and beliefs in a concrete and professional manner. Although I have been actively involved in establishing programs for persons with disabilities in the community, and throughout the world, it has not been work. It is my belief, my passion. It is what I live every day and what I hope for the future. I took my passion and was able to combine it with the business and management skills I obtained at Lakehead and develop a successful and fulfilling career.”