St. John's para-equestrian sets sights on Paralympics

Seventeen years after a life-changing event, Robyn Andrews continues to defy the odds and is aiming to make the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Misfortune didn't derail dream of competing on world stage

Diana Andrews says her daughter has never felt sorry for herself. Robyn calls it a 'useless emotion.' (CBC)

Robyn Andrews has a story that defies the odds.

Seventeen years after a life-changing event, Andrews continues to amaze the medical community and is aiming to make the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As an active 12-year-old, Andrews had been heavily involved in swimming, track and field, soccer and figure skating. In fact, she had three provincial skating championships to her credit.

It was at that age when Andrews' entire world crashed.

Having undergone brain surgery to remove a tumour, she suffered what doctors first thought was a seizure. The following day, surgeons tried to relieve some of the pressure on her brain, but they accidentally hit the main artery, causing her to have a massive stroke.

Andrews, now 29, can't recall much from that time, other than through photos she's seen or stories she's heard.

Robyn's mother, Diana Andrews, said her daughter was completely paralyzed.

"Absolutely nothing worked ... she couldn't blink, couldn't move her tongue, nothing."

Doctors told the family that if Robyn survived 24 hours, she would likely remain in a vegetative state. And because the surgery was performed in Toronto, and doctors said she was too ill to travel, Robyn had to spend the following 18 months in rehabilitation there.

Diana Andrews said for the next four years, her daughter's progress was measured in the tiniest of steps, through comprehensive physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Then, at 16, Robyn had her first experience riding a horse through Rainbow Riders, a group that provides therapeutic riding to physically and mentally-challenged children.

Diana Andrews said at first her daughter required two side walkers, someone to hold up her back and another person to lead the horse.

These days, Robyn is leading her own horse.

As one of Canada's top-rated para-equestrians, she trains in Toronto eight months of the year. Robyn and her mother spend the rest of the time travelling to and from competitions.

"Being on a horse was great — like all of the responsibility is on you," said Andrews.

She feels her competitive nature is alive and well.

"See, when I skated, my aim was always to make it to the Olympics. So I said to myself ... I can't easily skate, so what else can I do to pursue that dream? So riding came along, and I said — perfect."

Physically, Andrews' greatest challenge is keeping her balance while in the saddle. When performing dressage routines in competition, she admits her biggest challenge is her memory, but adds it's getting better with time.

Her mother said of all the steps Robyn has taken on her journey, there's one more left, and it's a big one: the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio.

"She's number five in Canada, and they take four."

Robyn said between now and then, she will have to work harder.

"I will have to put my nose to the grindstone."