By Dan Plouffe
Gee-Gees high jumper Marie-Eve Chainey already finds herself in rare company because of her ability to compete while studying in a demanding program like nursing, but no one else can claim to have overcome the same kind of battle just to get to the start line.
The 27-year-old still doesn’t know what caused it, but while she was living in Spain nine years ago, her kidneys suddenly failed. She was carrying about 50 lbs. of excess water in her body and her blood pressure skyrocketed to 220/143.
“It’s always amazing to me to think that eight years ago, I couldn’t even walk. I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t wash my hair, I couldn’t do anything,” the Kapuskasing, Ont. native recalls. “Every time I talk about it, I get the shivers.”
With her muscles badly damaged, doctors told Chainey high jumping in the future was out of the question. But she proved them all wrong, slowly working her way back despite lacking functional kidneys and undergoing nightly dialysis treatments that often leave her feeling “like a zombie” the next day.
Last season, Chainey met the qualifying standards to compete against some of Canada’s best at the Ontario University Athletics championships as well, as the club nationals. The accomplishment was stunning to Gee-Gees coach Andy MacInnis.
“To handle the complexity of her degree in nursing – along with the time spent trying to be successful in athletics with her disability – is an immense challenge, but it’s one that she seems to readily take on,” MacInnis says. “She’s very brave.”
When the uOttawa human kinetics grad was on her nursing field placement from September to early November, she wasn’t able to train for high jump at all. Normally, Chainey receives her dialysis treatments at home, but she had to stay at the hospital herself overnight before getting up at 5 a.m. to care for other patients during her shifts.
“Sleeping at the hospital and going back and forth to the house has been a little bit hard on my health,” explains Chainey, who was often sick over the two months she was around others who were ill. “With dialysis, I have a low immune system and it does take more time to get better, so I have to take that time off.
“That’s just part of my lifestyle. I can’t change that. I have to listen to my body.”
The unexpected break from training caused Chainey to scale back her goals for this season. The second-year Gee-Gee still hopes to qualify for CIS nationals in future years, but she’s now targeting a repeat trip to the OUAs by clearing 1.55 metres and improving her composure in competition.
The first step towards those objectives was getting back to practice in recent weeks at the Louis-Riel Dome in Ottawa’s east end.
“It feels so much better. Just my mood is better. To be in the gym, that’s where I’m comfortable,” notes Chainey, who’s wanted to be a doctor since she was young. “If I look at last year, I didn’t really get sick at all during the training time. It just proves to me that if I do physical activity, it boosts up my immune system.”
That’s a message Chainey does her best to spread. This past summer, the Gloucester resident organized a run in Ottawa for the Shad Ireland Foundation to encourage dialysis patients to be physically active.
“I’ve seen so many people on dialysis that are young, they have little kids, and they’re not functional any more,” laments Chainey, also an advocate for receiving nocturnal dialysis at home. “They can’t keep a job, and their whole family is affected by the disease, and most of them could have done something to prevent it. Diabetes and high blood pressure can be controlled, and that would prevent kidney disease.”
For Andy MacInnis, Chainey’s story makes her a source of inspiration for many people.
“There’s a purpose behind all that she does, and it’s for all the right reasons,” he says.
“For other people on dialysis facing the same challenges, she can become an example as to what the limits are, and what the limits aren’t.”