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Merrickville Phoenix Article

Merrickville’s very own Amazing Person

Claire Smith’s spirit and upbeat attitude are remarkable given what she has been through. Her indomitable spirit, together with her varied volunteer efforts, led Claire to be nominated as an Amazing Person. A gala — — was held October 21 in Ottawa.

Between Claire’s work in her home office and her volunteer work, she is happily very busy. Claire grew up in Burritt’s Rapids and lived there for many years. It remained her home base from 1990 to 1997, although she was in North Carolina for half the year. A member of the Canadian Equestrian Team, she competed intensively during this period. In 1997, she fell while representing Canada at the Open European Championships, sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury. Three years later, she started in the MA program at the University of Ottawa, and lived in Burritt’s Rapids while completing the MA. Then, in 2006, midway through the PhD program at the U of O, she bought a house and six acres on the south side of the Rideau between Burritt’s Rapids and Merrickville. A year later, she built an addition, a large part of which is a home office. She spent many hours of her life in that space during the final years of her PhD.

Since graduating in December 2010, Claire has worked from that office. She writes academic as well as popular articles, and prepares for the speaking engagements to which she has been invited as the keynote speaker. She has authored a soon-to-be released memoir that recounts her life as an equestrian. It stories her journey after her equestrian life was cut short by a severe traumatic brain injury sustained in a fall, and describes her return to academia three years after she was injured. Importantly, she explains how her very narrowly defined life prior to her accident has expanded exponentially.
Claire spends a lot of time volunteering. It is remarkable, given her writing commitments, that she has the time to volunteer to the extent that she does. For the past three years, Claire has written the performer biographies for the Merrickville’s Jazz Festival. Recently, she’s been sharing the stories of local businesses on the Merrickville-Wolford page of the North Grenville Times. She tries to make time once a week to go to Carleton Lodge, a City of Ottawa long term care home. There, she’s a friendly visitor, spending a couple of hours chatting with residents, telling them her stories and, more importantly, listening to theirs. She also coordinates student placements between the University of Ottawa and Carleton Lodge for students who, as a requirement for some courses, must complete community service hours.

Claire is a director of the Brockville YMCA. In 2011, when she started swimming at the Y three times a week, she quickly became an ardent admirer of the facility and all that it offers. Eighteen months ago, the CEO suggested that she apply for a position on the Board of Directors. Now a Director, she was named to the Governance committee of the Board of the Brockville Y.

Because of her own experiences with disability, Claire is drawn to volunteer for organizations that help others facing challenges. From 2010 to 2016, she was on the Board of Directors of the Wings of Phoenix, an Ottawa charity that funds rehabilitation for survivors of brain injuries who are unable to pay. When the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA) put a call out for new directors in early 2017, Claire saw another opportunity to give back. After undergoing a lengthy application and interview process, she was named a Director of the OBIA Board beginning in June 2018.

In 2006, a long ten years after her head injury, Claire began to lose function in her right leg. She was diagnosed with the movement disorder Dystonia, a chronic illness originating in the brain. In all probability, Dystonia is secondary to her severe traumatic brain injury. Her presence on the Leeds and Grenville accessibility committee is a direct result of her limited mobility — she uses a wheelchair. The accessibility committee meets in various locations across the county to make recommendations re accessibility.

Keep an eye out for Claire’s memoir: Falling into Now: Memories of Sport, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Education. The Merrickville Book Emporium is hosting a book signing on Sunday, December 17, and a Merrickville launch party is planned. It will take place in the Baldachin pub. The book will also be available online at and at select bookstores in Ottawa.
Claire has had her share of challenges; however, rather than focus on what she can’t do, she embraces what she can and we wish her much success in all future endeavors.

-Submitted by Heather Dallaire & David Ellis


Used with permission of the Merrickville Phoenix, December 2017