Jennifer Depippo of Cranbrook is seeking a spot on Team Canada’s Paralympic Swim Team.

Jennifer Depippo of Cranbrook is seeking a spot on Team Canada’s Paralympic Swim Team.

When fire meets water

Cranbrook’s Jennifer Depippo sets her sights on Team Canada’s Paralympic Swim Team

A Cranbrook woman is using the obstacles she has faced in her life to take her to the highest levels of athleticism.

Jennifer Depippo has her sights set on the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, 2016, competing in the pool for Team Canada.

“I have a real interest in sports and competing,” Depippo said. “I have this fire within me, so much power that I want to express.”

Depippo, now 26, was involved in a car accident when she was not yet eight years old. The accident left her with a brain injury, resulting in ataxia, a condition affecting balance and motor coordination.

“To be considered for the Paralympics, one must have a disability of some sort,” Depippo said. “And that’s my disability, even though it’s not visible.”

Depippo’s first step towards her Paralympic goal is the qualifier, which will be the Parapan American Games, held in Toronto, August 7-14, 2015. The Parapan American Games is a multi-sport event held every four years after every Pan American Games for athletes with physical disabilities. The Parapan and the Pan Am Games are held in the year before the Summer Olympics/Paralympics — which in 2016 will be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“You have to contact someone from the Paralympic committee and tell them you want to try out for the team,” Depippo said. “Then they find a club for you to join and the coaches there — it’s basically a network.”

Depippo has been working with personal trainer Laurie Dickson, operator of Aspire 2B fit, and David Chisholm, a local accredited swimming coach.

“I know I can do it,” she said. “I’ve been getting amazing support from Laurie and Dave.”

Dickson spoke of the incredible progress Depippo has made and is making, in a relatively short time.

“I started training her about six weeks ago, and right away I noticed her passion and determination, and her drive,” Dickson said. “Her passion comes from overcoming a lot of obstacles, both emotional and physical. She’s very strong-willed, very strong physically. I believe that without the passion, physical strength is null and void.

“When I went and watched her swim, I was impressed.”

Dickson has been timing her lengths of the pool — Depippo is cruising at about 55 seconds a length. “To qualify we need 49 seconds a length, maximum,” Dickson said. “Under 40 seconds is optimal.”

Dickson has created a diet for Depippo’s fuel sources, and is helping Depippo with a weight training and cardio regimen. And of course, Depippo is swimming, seven days a week.

“I believe, as an athlete myself, you have to have a long-term goal,” Dickson said. “Then you pick the short terms and how you get there. Without getting there, you can’t reach that long term goal. That’s where my position comes in, as her trainer, because I push her hard. She’s had a very short time frame in her swimming right now, but she’s come a long way in that time frame. Her lung capacity has doubled.”

Depippo took swimming lessons when she was a child, but after her accident never really took to lap swimming until just recently. But when she rediscovered the water, she found it to be her friend.

“When I’m swimming, the water is an escape from all my anxieties and depressions,” she said. “The water calms me down and makes me focus 100 per cent on what I’m doing.”

But she is also fired up by the spirit of competition.

“When you talk about any Olympics, the people are good,” she said. “They strive for excellence, and that’s what I’m striving for. But I know this — I’m putting in the amount of work I’m putting in because I know that I will bring home a gold medal.”

Depippo has just completed writing a book about her accident, her rehabilitation, and her viewpoint of the world through the lens of these experiences. She has found a publisher for her autobiography — Bennett R. Coles of Promontory Press.

“Another reason I want to compete is to prove to all the people who’ve bullied me, laughed at me and isolated me in the past what I can do and what I have become. But ultimately it’s also to prove to myself that I can do it, and I know I can. I would like people to recognize me as being a fighter, and an athlete.”

Dickson said Depippo would also love to represent a sponsor, or sponsors, from here in Cranbrook. If you’re interested in sponsoring Jennifer Depippo in her quest for Paralympic Gold, email