Pain no hindrance for Sharon Jarvis with Paralympics on the horizon


Sharon Jarvis and Ceasy. Picture: Julie Wilson
Pain no hindrance for Sharon Jarvis with Paralympics on the horizon
Sharon Jarvis and Ceasy. Picture: Julie Wilson

WHEN Paralympic dressage rider Sharon Jarvis talks about the daily pain she endures, it is as if she is not talking about pain at all.

The Upper Swan resident has lived with it for so long that she speaks on it with the lightness of everyday conversation; cheerily and casually.

It is a disposition that masks the fact she has experienced chronic discomfort for most of her life.

Jarvis, originally from Donnybrook, miraculously beat bone cancer in her leg as a seven-year-old child when doctors had given her just three months to live.

But the disease and treatment significantly weakened her left leg, leading to repeated bone breakages and searing nerve pain ever since.

She is now 37.

“Pain is something that I live with everyday,” she said.

“There are times when it isn’t very good, I suffer from a fair bit of nerve pain.

“But I don’t focus on what hurts me… I just focus on what I want to achieve.”

She was unable to ride for six years after being cleared of the Ewing sarcoma.

The damage left her with a limp that she still carries today.

Self-conscious of her gait as a teenager, horse riding offered her the “freedom to hop on my pony and ride away from all my problems”.

“It allowed me to stop being known as the kid who limped, I then became the girl who could ride,” she said.

And ride she does; her tenacity perennially put to the test.

She suffered her most recent broken leg last year, putting her bid to represent Australia in the Rio Paralympics at risk.

Jarvis described the innocuous circumstances of the break.

“I wasn’t riding a horse, I wasn’t doing anything stressful, I was just standing still and I turned (and it broke),” she said.

“We waited to have eight weeks on crutches and a total of ten weeks to see if it would heal.

“But because that bone’s been compromised from having radiotherapy as a kid, it did not heal.”

Jarvis had major surgery to strengthen the bone with a metal rod just six weeks out from her first Paralympic trial.

She did not mount a horse until a week-and-a-half before the event.

Given the lack of recovery, the pain was immense, even by her resilient standards.

“I look back on it now and I think to myself ‘how the hell did I do that?’” she said.

“That’s where the power of the mind is just so incredibly important.”

The toil and hard-headedness was justified last week when it was announced she had made the Paralympic team.

Not only had she achieved her goal through physical hardship, but she had done it while juggling her time between WA and regular journeys – via road, not plane – to trials in the eastern states.

Jarvis is accustomed to driving her car, with horse float attached, across the Nullarbor, but she also holds a truck licence for when her “very good friends” loan her a horse truck.

It is a lifestyle that has had her car’s odometer tick past more than 600,000km over the years.

“All selection competitions are on the east coast… I can’t afford to move to the east and just stay living there so I need come back between competitions to keep earning money,” she said.

She has not competed at the Games since Beijing in 2008 because she made the decision to retire her horse ahead of the London Paralympics.

Her biggest success remains the World Equestrian Games of 2010 when she posted two bronze medals.

Jarvis hopes her new Dutch mount Ceasy will lead her to better a result than the fourth place she earned in Beijing.

Given the frustration of being so close to a podium finish, she laughingly described fourth as “the world’s worst place”.