A northwest B.C. RCMP officer who overcame a devastating on-duty injury, has not only been accepted back to active duty with the Smithers detachment, but is now a world-class sitting volleyball player.
Cst. Jennifter McCreesh suffered a severe injury to her leg in the line of duty several years ago that eventually led to a life-changing decision to have the leg amputated.
But the constable was not going to let that stop her in her career or her life outside of work. On Nov. 11, she was a member of the Canadian women’s team that won the silver medal at the Para Sitting Volleyball World Championship in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
McCreesh’s journey to join the team was as fast-paced as the game itself, having just become an amputee herself in February of 2020.
After a video chat early in 2021, with now teammate Felicia Voss-Shafiq, McCreesh was invited to join in on some practices in Vancouver, when she was next in town.
As an amputee, McCreesh happened to be heading to Vancouver for on-going appointments and took up Voss-Shafiq on the invitation. After a month of twice a week practicing with the men and women there, the question was posed to McCreesh, “how would you like to talk to our coach?”
According to McCreesh, it was too good to be true. “I said “me?,” why would your coach want to talk to me.”
The call started the ball rolling, so to speak. McCreesh joined the team in January 2022 and less than a year later she was given the #16 jersey on the women’s team and was heading to the world championships in Sarajevo.
In the months leading up to the games, the team played in Boston, Italy, Edmonton and the Netherlands, giving them the time and experience to gel as a group.
“You’re still getting to know your team, and you’re doing all this international travel, which is very cool, all the while knowing the worlds are coming,” McCreesh said.
In 2018, the team just missed the podium at the Tokyo Paralympics, so we set our goal for the worlds to medal.”
The team was ranked sixth in the world after the Tokyo games.
The Canadian women are led by longtime head coach Nicole Ban, who was confident the team’s depth and experience would pay dividends.
“The majority of our Tokyo roster has returned — Sarah Melenka has rejoined the program and we have added two newcomers, Jennifer McCreesh and Jayme Lepp,” Ban said.
“We have more depth than ever and are ready to showcase that. This group of athletes are ready to show our improvements since the Tokyo Games and once again, push for the podium on the world stage.”
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There were 13 women’s teams competing, composed of up to 12 players, six on court at one time, on an indoor court measuring 10 metres long and six metres wide with a net height of 1.05 metres from the floor.
The rules are the same as for able-bodied Volleyball except that the serve may be blocked or attacked and players may not lift their buttocks off the ground when playing the ball, except in extreme defensive actions.
“Many people mistakenly think we are in wheelchairs,” McCreesh said.
“It is bums on the ground, it is intense and fast, you have to be strong, you have to be agile and have extremely strong core muscles, and last but not least you have to have amazing ball control, because if you don’t, people can’t get the ball,” she explained.
As the women worked their way through the world tournament, they gained momentum and confidence eventually making the final, against the strongly favoured Brazilian team.
In the playoff for gold, the ladies fought hard, in what was called an “exciting five-set final,” by those watching, with Brazil hanging on to take the gold medal.
“Of course, it was a heartbreak and difficult pill to swallow, because I think if you lose and you are playing your best, you lost to a better team, but if you lose because you are making mistakes, you beat yourself up for quite a while,” McCreesh said.
“But being new to the team, I’m, like, this is incredible, the achievements in a short amount of time, second in the world, we achieved our original goal, and now we just need to use this as positive re-framing of how strong we’ve become and will be going forward.” she reflected.
“It was a spectacular experience, completely unparalleled in my life, and being a part of this group of women who are so encouraging and inspiring, it just makes me want to turn it up, work that much harder. I am amongst greatness with this team, and this has definitely lit a fire under me to accomplish more, so I’m thinking to the future and saying watch out for us, we will continue to do amazing things.”