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Walking tall

After the Yonge Street tragedy, Cathy Riddell is back on her feet.

A former Paralympian and marathon runner, Cathy never thought that her biggest challenges would be getting out of a chair or putting on a pair of socks – the “little” things she took for granted – until April 23, 2018.

On that sunny afternoon, the 67-year-old, who had lived in Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood all her life, was walking to the library near Mel Lastman Square when a van suddenly hopped a curb on Yonge Street and charged down the sidewalk. Legally blind since birth, she says she never heard the van coming, nor does she remember being hit.

She was thrown approximately 15 feet (4.5 metres), landing with devastating injuries to her shoulder, spine, pelvis and ribs. She suffered a head trauma and a slew of internal injuries, including a punctured lung. The severity of her injuries kept her confined to a hospital for two months, followed by two years of working to regain her mobility with the help of Sunnybrook’s St. John’s Rehab.

And that she did.

With intensive multi-disciplinary care and perseverance, Cathy completed a 5-kilometre walk for cancer with her niece and grand-niece just a year and a half after the attack.

Cathy Riddell.

For some reason, my life was spared,” says Cathy. “I wasn’t going to waste it; not when so many others – young people – lost their lives.”

Her first mission after leaving the hospital: walking down Yonge Street where the tragedy happened. “I wanted to face my demons,” she says. “This is my home. This is my neighbourhood. I’m not going to be scared off by it.”

With her most recent surgery to repair her knee completed in February 2020, Cathy knows she still has some recovery ahead of her. “My brother said to me: ‘You’ve got an uphill climb, kid, but I wouldn’t bet against you.’”

Cathy graduated from rehab in June 2020. As a gesture of gratitude for the care she received, she made two donations to Sunnybrook’s St. John’s Rehab, the first to the program’s highest priority needs and the second toward a treadmill for the outpatient unit.