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Chris Slavin (“In America I’m Slay-vin and then here I’m Slah-vin”) is a former elite-level para-athlete from near Boston in the United States but now calls the Beara Peninsula her home.

In 2007 Chris was a competitive snowboarder competing at US nationals when she had a T7 incomplete spinal cord injury. Snowboarding was a passion that she continued to pursue, but while training for the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games she had a second incomplete spinal cord injury – on the seven year anniversary of her first.

“Sports have always been really important to me. Outdoor recreation has always been really important to me, and both have been really important in my recovery from my injury.”

One of her other passions is Ireland, but that became more complicated after her injury.

“Prior to my injury, I used to come to the to Ireland a lot and I would do a lot of hiking, just touring around. After my injury I didn’t come back for about 10 years because I thought it was going to be difficult to access the country in the way that I used to access the country. But on the 10-year anniversary of my accident, I decided that I was going to just come and do it.”

Chris is pictured with her service dog Earle. Chris wears jeans and a blue longsleeve top.
Chris Slavin and Earle, her service dog.

“I didn’t want to be doing anything”

Chris had spent 3 years in Ireland doing public speaking and advocacy work towards improving accessibility and pursuing her love of outdoor recreation when she started to have new medical problems.

“It was an out-of-the-blue kind of situation in that I’d never had an issue with my bowel program. I can’t express it – it was really scary to be in another country in the middle of COVID, in lockdown without having any specialists yet and my GP couldn’t even access information [from the HSE].

I’m here and I’m starting to really feel sick which was affecting just my emotional outlook. It made me so that I didn’t feel comfortable when we were able to go out. I didn’t want to be doing anything. I didn’t want to be far away from home, and I live in a beautiful location, and I couldn’t even go out on my walks or my hikes or things like that. It was really impacting my self-esteem. 

Chris, a woman with a spinal cord injury who uses a wheelchair, wheels between cones at the wheelchair skills room at Crann.

“An absolute lifesaver”

I happened to see an advertisement for a continence clinic [at Crann], which wasn’t technically my issue at the time but when I called to get information on that, I also found out that there was a program offered on bowel care and I was able to connect with the nurse, Eimear, and she was an absolute lifesaver.

I was able to work with Eimear and she helped guide me through not only the medical system here, but also worked with me on my bowel program. We tried a variety of different things and we liaised weekly by phone. 

It was really convenient for me, because I was in the process of moving from Cork to the Beara Peninsula, which is really remote and a long way to drive, so having the ability to have a resource that I could access no matter where I was, was super helpful.

“Not only did it solve my problem, it’s improved my life.”

When you have a disability, sometimes you feel like you’re constantly accommodating your schedule and what you want to do in your life for the fact that you have doctors’ appointments or inconvenient things like bowel programs. It was really good that I didn’t feel like my life was taking a back seat because I had to go and deal with this other medical issue that I didn’t want to deal with. I could talk to Eimear by phone when I was camping!  

Working with Eimear, we were able to utilize some equipment that we don’t use in the United States hardly at all, and not only did it solve my problem, it’s improved my life. 

Eimear has also been able to kind of be an intermediary between myself and my GP who doesn’t necessarily have the background in spinal cord injury and the specialist knowledge. Having Eimear, as someone who can speak both languages was vital. 

“What I love about Crann is that I feel like Crann is my partner. When I go to my GP or something else I always feel like I’m asking for something. As if I’m Oliver Twist, like please may I have X Y or Z.

I feel like I’m always asking or, I don’t feel like I’m on an even play at playing field. When I’m working with Crann, I feel like it’s a partnership and that we’re working together to solve a problem or to meet a need.

It’s the partnership that I really love the best and I feel like there is an understanding of people with spinal cord injuries and neuro-physical disabilities.

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