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Former Buckeye overcomes the odds

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Former Miles Macdonell Buckeye volleyball star Wanda Guenette has overcome rheumatoid arthritis to capture another World Masters Games gold medal.

PHOTO BY MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Former Miles Macdonell Buckeye volleyball star Wanda Guenette has overcome rheumatoid arthritis to capture another World Masters Games gold medal. Photo Store Photo Store

A former Miles Macdonell volleyball star has battled to keep going in the sport she loves.

Wanda Guenette, 50, won her third World Master’s Games beach volleyball gold medal with partner Laura Inward in Torino, Italy earlier this month — the West End resident’s third gold in a row at the event. The duo won in the age 50-54 category.

Guenette wasn’t sure she’d get the chance for a three-peat, as she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010 after winning her second gold medal at the games in Sydney, Australia the previous year. Even after coming out on top, she felt pain in her hands and knees, and acknowledged she wasn’t playing with her usual dominance and went to two specialists to seek answers.

Doctors told her she would never play again, but Guenette said a change in lifestyle allowed her to not only keep competing, but to help her be the fittest she’s ever been.

"I’ve been an athlete all my life, so to not be an athlete was a little much to take at the moment," she said. "Being an athlete, you grasp at that, and I changed my diet, changed my training, started pilates."

Guenette said she’s assumed the role of underdog more often than not, so after being down for a little while, she was bound to bounce back and find a way around this latest obstacle.

"I was pretty devastated for about a week, but then it was ‘Screw it, I’m going to prove them wrong,’" said Guenette, who didn’t start competing at a high level until she was 28. "I’ve been proving people wrong for most of my athletic career.

"I made the switch to beach when I was 40, and they told me I couldn’t do that, but I did."

Inward, meanwhile, noted she hasn’t seen any effect on Guenette’s play after her diagnosis.

"As far as I am concerned she is as great on the court today as she was before the diagnosis," Inward wrote in an email from Italy. "She works hard. She hits hard. She blocks like a demon. She digs everything."

Guenette acknowledged she didn’t take her prescriptions at first, but since arthritis destroys joints, she takes the medication and "I manage it pretty well."

She said she still gets flare-ups, but they’re not on the same level as they were previously.

In addition to battling arthritis, Guenette said the competition was tougher than it had been in previous years, while she and Inward also had to battle through the stifling Italian heat, where temperatures averaged 38 degrees Celsius.

Guenette said her perseverance helps her in other pursuits — she served as a Team Manitoba beach volleyball coach at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que. almost immediately after returning. As well, she serves as a personal trainer at Elite High Performance Training Centres, where she is living proof of the results of hard work.

"When people say ‘I can’t’, I’m like ‘Of course you can,’" she said. "There’s always a way."

Inward noted she met one swimmer at the games who won three medals at age 89. She suspects her friend will similarly be competing at a ripe old age.

"Nobody embodies life, pursuing ones dreams and breaking age boundaries like Wanda," Inward noted.

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