New Adventures with Amylior Ambassador Ben Leclair
- By Laurie Watanabe
- May 01, 2020
As a professional wakeboarder from Canada, Ben Leclair is used to traveling the world as an elite athlete, pushing through pain during training, and appearing on film with the great outdoors as his backdrop.
In November 2016, while training in Florida, Leclair sustained a C3 complete spinal cord injury that changed his life.
But Leclair will also tell you that, maybe surprisingly, some things haven’t changed at all.
Learning New Possibilities
Today, Leclair is still an athlete, still trains, and still travels the world: “I’m probably more of an athlete now than ever before. I eat better, I train much harder and I’m constantly giving my body the tools needed to optimize.”
Filmmaking remains a big part of his life, both in front of and behind the camera.
And rather than slowing down, he’s added credentials to his résumé. He’s now an ambassador and spokesperson for Amylior, the power wheelchair and seating manufacturer in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, and will help design and develop future products. He’s still an ambassador for O’Neill, the surf wear/lifestyle brand, as he was during his wakeboarding career.
Leclair has come a long way from November 2016, when he was on a ventilator and a feeding tube, rehabilitating first in Orlando, Fla., then in Montreal.
He shares his story not just to encourage people living with disabilities, but also as a lesson to the able-bodied world: “People are capable and deserving of all the adventures and possibilities that life has to offer.”
One goal is to make everyone more aware of available seating, mobility and electronics options, and what a difference those options can make.
“It’s hard to know what’s out there, even though there are more social media pages now,” Leclair said. “When you’re new to this world [of assistive technology], it’s not easy to find. When I was at my rehab center in Montreal, they tell you what they know, and you think that’s all that’s out there.”
A priority of Leclair’s is to help people to use assistive technology to move forward in new ways.
“When I was there, I couldn’t move my arms,” Leclair said, of his starting point during rehab. While he said he was aware that some people undergoing rehab with him were “going to be able to play rugby or some kind of sport, which might give them a passion,” Leclair didn’t learn until much later that wheelchair sports include people with various levels of injury. “I just heard recently that people play soccer in wheelchairs. It’s things like this I’d like to share. It’s not about the level of injury. There’s something you can do at almost every level.”
A Cinematic Career
Filmmaking is front and center of Leclair’s life now, as it was before his injury. “I was working for a wakeboard company that did wakeboard events in Canada, and it was televised on a French-Canadian TV channel,” he said. “I had a TV crew that followed me around, and they came to Asia and Europe with me a couple of times.”
Spending so much time with the TV crew taught Leclair cinematography.
“That’s where I really learned how to film and edit,” he said. “We were all in the same hotel room, and they were always editing. I got the work ethic from them.”
Today, Leclair uses those lessons to make his own films. “Camera gear got a lot less expensive and a lot higher quality, so you don’t have to bring this huge camera around,” he added. “You can throw a small camera into your backpack, and the quality is pretty amazing.”
Leclair wants his films to be polished, with the beauty he became accustomed to when TV film crews were constantly turning their cameras on him.
“I don’t want them to look medical,” he said of the films. “I don’t want people to feel bad when they watch. I want them to feel happy for the people they’re watching.”
New Dreams, Familiar Dreams
His partnership with Amylior, launched in 2019, gives him the freedom to create films and to educate.
“I’ve been working on videos with them, showing a little bit of a motivational video,” he said. “It’s not really ‘corporate.’ It’s wakeboarding, and then me transitioning into filming and a couple of shots of me filming from the wheelchair, what I can film now. I’m proud to associate myself with a company that has the same kind of values as me, that’s pushing towards something better, and showing what I’m doing now: filming, editing, a little bit of background. The other videos coming up are more about my lifestyle, simple things like going into the snow with the chair, or going to the grocery store.
“We’re adapting a camera onto the wheelchair so I can control the most I can. Once that’s ready, I’ll be ready to make all the product videos. There’s so much more to show.”
Amylior — parent company of Amysystems power chairs, Continent Globe durable medical equipment, and the CG Air seating series — hasn’t put many restrictions on filming content, Leclair said: “Just trying to showcase what it’s like to be in a chair and what life looks like.”
His Amylior product development work is another throwback to his wakeboarding days: “I’m testing new wheels, I’m testing new seats, I’m testing the new controllers, and I know how to give feedback well because I’ve done that for other products.”
Leclair’s competitive nature is now expressed through handcycling. When he began rehab in Montreal, “I could pedal a bike slowly with one hand, and I would strap the other hand on there and try to make the movement, even though I couldn’t feel my arm,” he said.
He kept at it, buying a stationary hand-cycle system and practicing at home. In 2017, he traveled to NextStep Orlando to continue his rehab and training.
“I tried one of the bikes they had, and I wasn’t strong enough to pedal it,” he recalled. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to buy a bike, and at one point I’m going to be ready.’”
Leclair bought a second-hand bike and put it on rollers in his home. “I wasn’t strong enough to turn,” he said. “For the whole winter, I pedaled 120 km, but a couple of kilometers at a time. At the end of the winter, I wasn’t able to turn, but I was strong enough to pedal outside. That made me say, okay, I think it will work.”
He set his sights on a Red Bull Wings for Life run, which raises money for spinal cord injury research. Leclair had been invited to the Montreal event; organizers recruited him to appear in person and pose for photos. Leclair reached out to Top End, who promised him a bike much more efficient to pedal.
“I was supposed to be at the starting line or line,” he said, “but I told them: ‘I might be able to pedal a couple of kilometers. If people help me turn, there are straight lines [within the race course], so I’ll be fine.’”
The host of the event, a veteran marathon runner, said if Leclair could pedal for five kilometers, he’d run with him. Leclair said, “I was like, ‘Let’s do the whole thing.’”
And he did.
“It wasn’t perfect,” Leclair said, “but I was able to do the entire 10 kilometers with a couple of people pushing me here and there for the curves.”
Three years after his accident, how much does Leclair still use his professional wakeboard training and the lessons he learned from it?
“I think 100 percent of what I used to do is what I use now,” he said. “I’ve been working through injuries in the past, never as drastic as this. Pain is part of the process, and pushing yourself isn’t going to be good all of the time, there are going to be bad parts.”
He chuckled. “You always get the cake at the end.”
Photo credits: Simon Dubé (headshot); gophrette power (racing)
This article originally appeared in the Apr/May 2020 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.