Alumni Update – Joanne Berdan 1982 TFHA Scholar

Joanne Berdan 

1982 TFHA Scholar

Terry Fox and his humanitarian efforts changed not only my life but also allowed me to see what I was truly capable of.”


It may be hard for current TFHA recipients to believe but as one of the first TFHA recipients,  I went to U of T without a personal computer, internet, and smartphone. Wow, things have changed. My university days were busy with my course load (pharmacy) as well as being very active in training and competing in the Paralympics.

My Paralympian career spanned from 1983 thru to 1996. My area of competition was in field events for athletics within the cerebral palsy classification. While training and dedication resulted in gold medal results and world records, the greatest accomplishments I believe that I made are the impacts I made through public speaking and athlete advocacy for coaching and proper media coverage. In those early days, most of the general public had no clear idea of what a Paralympian was or what was parasport. As an athlete,  there was a responsibility not only for training and competing but also to educate the public about your sport.  I recall advocating for myself with the media during those early days to ensure the “sporting” article was in the sports section and not a special interest article.  From very little media coverage at my first Paralympics in 1984, to what you see now is amazing. It was difficult to find a coach who accepted you as an athlete with a disability. Integration into able-bodied sports teams or clubs was not yet a reality.  Initially, coaches were friends, family members, and those in the physiotherapy field.

I am grateful for all the coaches that I had throughout my athletic career. However, my last coach made the greatest impact. This was a certified athletics coach. I was his first athlete with a disability. It was so important to me that I advocated for this and other athletes with a disability. We have come full circle where former Paralympians now have their coaching certification and are coaching both able-bodied and disabled athletes. The sport has come such a long way since then. In the sporting area, currently, I am a recreational wheelchair curler at a fully integrated club in Peterborough. 

I have had a career as a community care pharmacist from January 1987 up to September 2020. Unfortunately, due to various health concerns, my career was shortened. I have had the opportunity to be both an employee pharmacist and a partner/owner. Hard to believe that when I first graduated it was a paper system only. By the end of my career, it was a totally digital system. My career was always focused on direct patient care. I believe my experience as a “patient” from birth to teens impacted how I believed patients should be treated. 

I have been married to my husband Scott for 24 years. Together we have raised our 21-year-old son Clayton. The reality of living every day with a disability is a challenge. Whether it be in my education, my career, or as a life partner and mother, my life has been very full and busy. While I wish I had done more humanitarian work, I also had to make the choice to stay within the limits of my abilities to live this full life with my family. Currently, I am focusing on my health and my own patient advocacy. In the future, I do see myself doing patient advocacy for others who are challenged in aging with their disability. 

As a child growing up with a disability in the 60’s and 70’s, there were very few disabled role models or disabled peer support. Terry Fox is my hero. For the first time, people were seeing beyond a person’s disability and accepting pure athleticism.   

The world is more accepting of people with disabilities and Terry played a big part in that change.  I hope to believe the small humanitarian efforts that I have made contributed to making a difference in how the world sees people with disabilities. I challenge this year’s cohort of TFHA recipients to carry on that torch. To keep making a difference. To keep Terry’s legacy alive.