Friday, June 21, 2024

Exclusive: How Canadian ace Shawn Delierre swapped squash for helping the health service during lockdown

‘I saw death first-hand, witnessing countless people depart the planet on my watch’

Some of my happiest squash adventures involved working with TV pioneer Jean  Delierre in a variety of nations, including the USA, Canada and England.  

Jean’s squash-playing sons David, Shawn and Jason would often be in the production team, wielding cameras and helping with all manner of behind-the-scenes activities.

Shawn, the long-term Canadian No.1, has seen his life take off in a completely new direction following his response to an appeal in Montreal for help during the Covid pandemic.

Squash, as every self-employed athlete knows, can be a singularly stressful environment where you have to put your own individual needs first.

However, by volunteering to help out at a number of care centres, as a Red Cross support aide, Shawn’s engaging personality was a quality that made him feel at home in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable situations.

Not only did he relish the challenge, he has since gained a number of health care qualifications to enable him to continue serving others in need.

We connected again after conversations with Squash Canada about World Squash Day providing a platform for the game to honour health care workers by offering free off-peak courts to the army of staff who worked, and are still working, incredible hours to support their communities.

Shawn, now 40, is still managing to play at a high-level despite working plenty of night shifts and was runner-up to David Baillargeon in the Canadian Nationals in Vancouver in June.

Here is Shawn’s story. 

Hello Alan,

What a pleasure it is to hear from you. On such ‘mercurial’ terms (one of my favourite words you love to use) he he…

I hope your family is well too. I mentioned your name to my father and his eyes lit up with joy. You’re amazing. I’ll never forget visiting your house with Papa way back in the day.

I am now ready to tell you my story.

The Pandemic:

The second the news dropped on March 14th of a so-called virus infecting the world (for real real), I was still in disbelief that everything would completely halt. I thought the PSA World Tour would likely be back by summer or September but by June of 2020, it was clear it would most likely only return in 2021.

I was working hard on my fitness but the hamster wheel stopped to make me think ‘Holy moly, the world’s in real trouble. Why am I training when people are dying like flies at every hospital and health care centre around me?’

I needed to readjust my vision. My idea was simply this: why don’t I volunteer myself to help the cause? Our health care system was desperately looking for workers ready to loosen the load on the overworked health care practitioners.

So I applied, thinking this is my chance to make a positive difference for myself and the situation the planet is facing.

First, my wife Stephanie helped me to apply with the Red Cross. After being accepted and formed to handle the demand, I was deployed across our province to another city in need. I stayed for two months in a hotel working at a nearby hospital from 10am to 8pm.

Different tasks were asked of us and it was a real eye opener being on the front lines witnessing the power of this virus propelling itself through the air, infecting so, so many victims.

Shawn switches from squash kit to hospital scrubs

After this mandate, I decided I liked the job enough to pursue on that path and get a diploma to work directly, first-hand with the patients. I then graduated as a beneficiary attendant (PAB). It took three months with traineeships before I was mobilised to a centre as a full-time health worker.

In between school and the new job, I had time to help the Red Cross on one more mandate outside our city.

This one was fun and during festive times over the Christmas holidays; we helped decorate and boost the morale in a place where many could not see their family members or understand why they couldn’t leave their rooms. I was made to dress up as Santa Claus and visit each and every resident on Christmas Day giving them the holiday spirit missing with their loved ones.

It gave me so much joy to do what I was doing, filling in a void that was really a natural thing for me. We’ve all taken care of someone we love and I seem to process this talent with pure strangers.

Shawn plays Santa Claus during lockdown

By the time I started my full time position in January of 2021, I had visited four different health care centres and worked with countless teams and classes of workers on the field: doctors, nurses, caregivers, etc.

I had seen death first-hand, witnessing countless people depart the planet on my watch. This was an incredible undertaking in an industry I knew very little about. Now, I can take care of people, and I’m even ready to give CPR if needed.

My coach, Yvon Provencal, having known of my trajectory, had put my name into a contest of athletes who dedicated themselves towards the pandemic and I was granted the humanitarian award of the most inspirational athlete of the year during this period.

It was broadcast over national TV from the RDS studio in Montreal alongside another Olympian swimmer who became a teacher for young children, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the NFL player who is now a doctor.

Shawn is gaining medical qualifications to continue his service to the community

It was incredibly inspiring to be interviewed in front of the whole country for the cause. Working on the front lines with actual victims affected by the virus and learning how to administer real treatments and therapies to keep them living and healthy through these horrible times was life changing… an extremely fulfilling revelation indeed and decisive experience in my case.

I continued with my studies while working full time to obtain another degree in 2022 as a family auxiliary practitioner. This means I can henceforth provide more profound care treatments at people’s homes, in the emergency, on hospital grounds and palliative care departments.

All this while still managing my squash commitments on the Tour… I also forgot to mention that I’ve been working night shifts for the past year and a half, so that’s the essence of my story in condensed form.

Thank you for reading; I hope it inspires many!

TOMORROW: Part Two as Shawn talks about how he dealt with some of the tough challenges he faced during lockdown, and how his love of squash still lights up his life.

Pictures courtesy of Shawn Delierre 


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