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Disabled Kelowna teen's leadership prowess leads to $70,000 scholarship

Chat with Ainsley Wood and the word 'positivity' constantly pops up.

"Positivity is in me and I want to inspire positivity in others," said the 18-year-old.

"Positivity is so important for rehabilitation. When so much has been taken from you, you have to celebrate the little wins like being able to brush your teeth as well as the big wins like accessible academics that allows you to go to university."

<who>Photo credit: TD</who>Ainsley Wood of Kelowna has been awarded one of only 20 TD Scholarships for Community Leadership for $70,000.

Wood, who is graduating from Kelowna Secondary School later this month, has been a quadriplegic since she fell out of a tree while playing with her brother four years ago and suffered a life-altering spinal cord injury.

In the fall, she'll attend UBC Okanagan psychology classes thanks to the campus being accessible to people in wheelchairs and a $70,000 TD Scholarship for Community Leadership.

"I didn't get this scholarship because I'm disabled," stressed Wood.

"I'm being recognized for leadership and receiving it because I've been a catalyst for community improvements and can make a difference for others with disabilities."

Thus, Wood is a community leader, very much in keeping with the community leadership component of the TD scholarship.

<who>Photo credit: Contributed</who>Ainsley Wood is graduating this month from Kelowna Secondary School and going on to study psychology at UBC Okanagan in the fall.

Wood will attend UBC Okanagan classes in person and do the same work as other students.

"I'm paralyzed from the chest down, so I have very little use of my hands and can't hold a pen to take notes," explained Wood.

"But I have these universal cuffs that can be used to attach a stylus to my hand so I can take notes with my laptop. Most students make notes on their laptops anyway rather than take notes (with pen and paper)."

The TD scholarship is prestigious.

Only 20 are awarded each year across the country.

Since 1995, TD has awarded millions in scholarships to recognize student leaders.

Besides the $70,000 to cover post-secondary tuition and living expenses, recipients have the opportunity of paid summer employment with TD and peer networking and mentorship.

<who>Photo credit: TD</who>Ainsley Wood with the other TD Scholarships of Community Leadership winners.

Wood had a chance to meet with the 19 other scholarship winners and leaders at a presentation ceremony recently.

"The great thing about the scholarship is I've been able to connect with 19 other scholarship winners being recognized for their leadership," she said.

"These are people my age who are advocating for better food security for their communities, better education for women and Indigenous education."

Woods' own advocacy started during the eight months she spent at the Sunnyhill Rehabilitation Centre at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver.

She organized an accessible Halloween event for all patients, which had the additional challenge of being smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.

She saw how some fun energized her and many of her fellow patients' rehab and she wanted to do more.

So, she joined the Rick Hansen Foundation Youth Leadership Committee, which is currently working on a series of resources to let youth with spinal cord injuries know how accessible post-secondary schools are.

An apropos project considering Wood chose UBC Okanagan because it's close to home and accessible.

<who>Photo credit: Contributed</who> Ainsley Wood outside her Kelowna home.

Wood is also a peer mentor with Spinal Cord Injury BC to provide emotional support and advice to other young women.

"Most of the young people with spinal cord injuries are male, so to be able to connect with other young women in a similar situation is important," she said.

"There's an emotional component for sure, but also practical talk about the big learning curve of living with a disability like how to put on makeup, what to expect at school, how to go out in public and what to do in social situations."

Wood herself was mentored by several peers through Spinal Cord Injury BC.

"They inspired me and taught me the importance of positivity and that's what I want to make sure that I pass onto others, too," she said.

Wood was also a PLEX (Persons with Lived Experiences) speaker at Kelowna General Hospital to give feedback on how rehab can be improved and what inspires positivity.

"For me, the positivity of the support from my family and friends is what helped me push through the hardest portion of rehab during the pandemic when in-person visits were limited and I had that fear of 'what will my life be like,'" she said.

Wood wants as much sense of normalcy as possible with her life.

So she's learning to drive a car adapted with all hand controls, she's looking forward to university, continuing her part-time and summer job at the Kelowna Visitor Information Centre and pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist or a career in law.

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