Promoting access and accessibility: An interview with Para triathlete and FACE™ grant recipient, Leanne Taylor

In 2018, Leanne Taylor was riding mountain bikes with her fiancé on the Bison Butte Trail in Winnipeg when she hit an unlucky bump and took a spill over her handlebars. Taking a fall is a regular thing for mountain bikers, but this fall was much different. Leanne dislocated her spine between the 9th and 10th thoracic vertebrae and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

As part of her rehab, Leanne discovered Para triathlon and competed in her first race just 8 months after her accident. In the five years since, Leanne has become a world-class athlete with her sights set on competing at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. She also received a Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE™) grant in both 2020 and 2022.

Picture of Leanne Taylor, Para triathlete
Photo Courtesy of Leanne Taylor

In advance of the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3), I caught up with Leanne to talk about how her training is progressing, the impact Para sport has had on her life and how her wedding planning is going.

PT: Thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to talk with me today! As you know, December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), a time specifically to celebrate achievements and promote inclusivity. From your perspective, what changes or initiatives do you believe are most important for fostering a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities in sports and society?

When a lot of people see a person with a disability, they think "That's so sad. That must be really hard." Myself, I'm a wheelchair user so people think "Life as a wheelchair user must be so hard."

But what makes life as a wheelchair user hard is lack of accessibility as opposed to the disability itself.

For example, there are some physical things I'm excluded from as a wheelchair user; however, there are a lot of physical things I'm not excluded from because of my disability but because of lack of accessibility or access. For example, I can swim 5k no problem - but I can't get into certain pools.

Another example, at certain sporting events, if a person with a disability wants to buy a ticket in an accessible spot, they can often only bring one friend. It’s all these little things that exclude you from full participation in what is “normal” or available to everyone else.

People think that disability is sad, but they don’t realise that the lack of accessibility is actually what’s sad.


PT: So, an important focus would be on finding ways to make these places and events more accessible?

Yeah. For example, if I approach an event and ask, “Can I participate?” a lot of the time people are uncomfortable with how to make it happen, so the answer is “no”. Not because they couldn’t do it, but because they are uncomfortable with not knowing how and with asking for help.

But in a lot of cases, people really want the answer to be “yes”, so they come back to me and ask what I need for an event to be accessible. This is hard for people to do! It can be difficult to say “yes”, but the people who are willing to have those conversations can open a lot of doors.


PT: What advice would you have for individuals with a disability who may be hesitant to pursue sports or physical activities?

When I think about getting into Para sports, I think about how I felt when I wanted to go swimming for the first time after my accident. One of the biggest challenges when going into a new sport, as a person with a disability, is that you don't know what you're doing. And people are going to watch you – people with a disability attract attention – not because they are unkind but because they are interested. That’s what can make trying something new difficult and that can create a lot of fear.

Something that motivates me when I’m in a unique environment – and people are looking at me and I feel a bit shy – is that the next time people see someone with a disability in this environment, it won't attract so much attention.

It's hard sometimes to be motivated to do something for just yourself, but then you realize that every time you go out and do something new or uncomfortable, you're doing a service to the entire disabled community. We can all become comfortable with seeing people with disabilities in these spaces.

Picture of Leanne Taylor, Para triathlete lined up in the water, ready to race the swimming portion of a triathlon
Photo Courtesy of Leanne Taylor

PT: You have several videos on your social media about making your home more accessible. Have you received any feedback on those videos?

I posted those videos because one time when I was out biking, I was approached by a woman who had followed my social media. She said that she had someone in her life who had become a wheelchair user and that she was curious how to make her home feel more friendly and accessible to that person, especially since she didn’t own the home. Our first home wasn’t originally designed to be fully wheelchair accessible, so I’m able to show the different, incremental ways you can make things a little bit easier or more accessible for a person in a wheelchair.


PT: How’s training going? Are the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games the next big event you’re working towards?

Training’s really good. There are athletes who absolutely love racing and there are athletes who love training; and I love training! For the Paris Games, qualification happens over a year period and is based on the top three scores you receive in qualifying events – then they take the top nine athletes in the class. I’ve got two really good scores so far. The third event was supposed to be the test event for Para triathlon at the Paris Games, but the water quality wasn’t good enough to allow us to swim. So I’ll be doing another full triathlon in March. If I perform like I’ve been performing, I should qualify – but we won’t know ‘til then. My coach tells me I should stop worrying!


PT: Sports can bring you to some high highs and some low lows. What motivates you to continue pushing boundaries and setting new challenges for yourself?

When you think about what you're trying to accomplish, you do have goals that are based on medals and race finishes and specific results, but if that's the only thing you're there for, you put yourself in a position to be heartbroken when things outside of your control happen that don't allow you to achieve the results that you wanted. Triathlon is, in some ways, a chaotic sport and anything can happen – a flat tire, different maps, race crashes – that can impact the results.

As much as I want a medal in Paris, it can't be the only thing keeping me coming back. So when I approach a start line, I take a minute to tell myself that I’ve been brave and worked hard and pushed past so much to be there in the first place. I take a minute to appreciate the skills I’ve developed and the kind of person it took to even get to that start line. Whether or not I get the medal, when I get home from the Games, it’s just a piece of metal and the person I’ve become is the real accomplishment.

Picture of Leanne Taylor, Para triathlete, in her racing wheelchair, racing along a track.
Photo Courtesy of Leanne Taylor

PT: How has participating in Para triathlon impacted your overall well-being and quality of life?

When I was first injured, people would come into my hospital room and cry which I understand because my kind of injury is sad and traumatic for everyone.  But I didn’t want to be the person that people think when they see me “Oh that's so sad what happened to her.” When I was still in the ICU, one of the things I said to my fiancé is that I want to build a life, after my injury, that is so good that we wouldn't go back and undo the injury.

That’s a really tall order and at the beginning, it probably wasn't true, but I've been injured for five years, and I can honestly say that if I had the option to go back, I wouldn't do it. The connections I’ve made with other people, the confidence that I've built in myself and the life that I have built for my family is so positive, and is just the place that I feel like I should be. So much of that can be attributed to Para sport, the environment that it puts you in, and the people that you meet and how much they teach you about what's really important.


PT: On a personal note, you’re getting married soon. How is wedding planning going, particularly as a person with a disability?

We chose a venue specifically that is accessible. There are going to be at least three wheelchair users, so we wanted to make sure people could navigate around tables easily. Also, one of my teammates who is visually impaired was originally going to be able to attend (sadly, now she isn’t). But at the time we discussed having someone narrate the ceremony; since she is completely blind, she wouldn’t necessarily know what’s going on. We thought it would be nice to open our guests’ eyes a bit to the experience of other people.


PT: Leanne, thank you so much for sharing your story and your insights! Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials; we wish you all the best. And we’ll be there rooting for you on your road to Paris.

If you want to follow Leanne’s Para sport journey, you can check out her Instagram and her TikTok. We also have more of our interview with Leanne on our own Instagram. We’re grateful for Leanne’s dedication to advocating for more inclusive spaces for persons with disabilities – a key theme in the observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities – alongside her own Para sport goals and are proud to support her athletic dreams.

 Since 1988, Petro-Canada has supported over 3,500 Canadian athletes and their coaches by providing more than $13.5 million in financial support through the Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE™) grant program. Hundreds of these athletes have then gone on to represent Canada at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Learn more about the FACE programand how we’ve been supporting Canadian athletes and coaches for 35 years.


Building Trust and Credibility Through Our Indigenous Partnerships

As part of Petro-Canada’s acknowledgement of National Indigenous History Month, we wanted to check in with the team that is responsible for developing Indigenous partnerships in our network. I recently sat down with Pat Pambianco, Director of Retail Operations, Western Canada to talk about Petro-Canada’s history of partnerships with Indigenous communities.

PumpTalk: Thank you for talking to me today, Pat. To start, can you tell me a bit about your role and how you’re involved in working with Indigenous communities?

Pat Pambianco: As Director of Retail Sites in Western Canada, my team and I are responsible for the 350 independently owned Petro-Canada branded stations in our Western region. This region spans all the way from Northern Ontario, west to Vancouver Island and then up to the Yukon and Northwest Territories. These sites are part of our independent dealer network, meaning that they own the sites, they own the property, and they own all the assets.  I have 11 team members – including account managers, business development reps and a sales advisor – who reside in various locales around the region and support our relationships with these stations and their owners. Of the 350 Petro-Canada locations in this region, we are proud to say we have 58 Indigenous Petro-Canada retailers; later this year we should surpass 60 locations.

Nk’Mip Corner Petro-Canada on Osoyoos Indian Band reserve land, near Osoyoos, BC
Nk’Mip Corner Petro-Canada on Osoyoos Indian Band reserve land, near Osoyoos, BC

PT: When did Petro-Canada first develop a station within the Indigenous community?

PP: Petro-Canada took our first step with the Indigenous community about 20 years ago.  It was very successful for both parties.  Our district with the Indigenous stations really started to communicate and grow together about 11 years ago. My first site began with the site on the Grasswoods Indian Reserve of the English River First Nation, south of Saskatoon. They had inquired about coming to our Petro-Canada brand; after getting to know the community, we were excited to work together.  We also added the first Petro-Canada Indigenous site in Alberta.  This was an unbranded location, meaning they had no national branded fuel.  We’re able to offer a significant support to new sites: design of the site, location consulting, contractor recommendations, onsite training for staff. We can help them through all stages of building and operating.

We knew there had been no concerted efforts to reach out to Indigenous communities for a business partnership, but once we did, we realised that these communities would welcome this kind of opportunity and relationship. The economic value to their community is, of course, a big incentive as is the employment of local residents. But perhaps most important is that a Petro-Canada branded station is often just the start.

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Petro-Canada near Griswold, MB
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Petro-Canada near Griswold, MB

PT: How have our Indigenous-owned stations contributed to Indigenous communities?

PP: Several communities have gone on to build more than one station: there are at least 10 communities that have more than two stations, and one that has four locations. And the sites they build are flagship sites, really beautiful. They are some of the best sites in our network, often bringing in their own cultural heritage and artwork.

Plus, many communities use that first Petro-Canada station as a foundation to pursue more commercial opportunities. It may have started with one gas bar, but now, we are working with stellar, efficient corporations. A number of these communities are creating more and more business opportunities: wholesale fuel business, consulting firms, engineering firms, mining, wineries, restaurants and even Formula 1-type racetracks. They are really growing and flourishing with many commercial ventures on the go.

PT: We’ve come a long way from our first Indigenous-owned Petro-Canada location. Why is it important for Petro-Canada to work alongside First Nations communities?

PP: Our partnerships with Indigenous communities are really a win-win all the way around. Owning a Petro-Canada station helps their community financially. It helps us to be well-represented in their community. And, it brings both of our communities closer together. This, to me, is the key benefit. By working with Indigenous communities, we’re able to break down old paradigms we had on both sides. We are able to build trust in working together.

It is a slow process to build that trust and credibility. Something that has really helped is that we have a person on the ground in their area, an account manager, that they can call and build a relationship with. The more that we have gotten to know each other, the more you realise that we all have similar goals. We all want better things for our children, our families and our communities.

Ultimately, it all comes down to relationships. I’m proud to see that our relationships are strong and continue to grow. As does positive word of mouth. We often get calls from Indigenous communities across the country who received a recommendation from another community that we are a trusted and reliable business partner. Additionally, we’re now being asked to participate with Indigenous communities during their cultural celebrations which we are truly honoured by.

Caribou Mountain Travel Centre near High Level, AB. Little Red River Cree Nation.
Caribou Mountain Travel Centre near High Level, AB. Little Red River Cree Nation.
Used with permission. Photo Credit: Anonymous

PT: What makes you particularly passionate about supporting development opportunities in Indigenous communities?

PP: I really love what they are building and the vision that many of the Indigenous communities have. They look at it beyond the gas bar. They are developing tourist areas. They bring in artwork and crafts from local artists and make the station their own. They are really focused on serving ALL communities.

I love seeing the excitement of the people who work at the stations, and I love being involved with passionate people who are willing to take a calculated venture with the motive of helping their community. Our Indigenous partnerships are so much bigger than just a gas station. I’m proud that we contributed to something positive for their communities.

PT: In talking with our Indigenous partners, have there been conversations about how we can do better as a business?

PP: We can always do better, and we learn by communicating and listening to our customers and our retailers.  Bringing economic prosperity is key and we will always look to share our successes and contacts in other areas like quick service restaurants, car washes, convenience stores and the buying power of being part of the family of Petro-Canada.


Thank you, Pat, for sharing your thoughts on Petro-Canada’s partnerships with Indigenous communities. It’s great to see the evolution of trust and credibility that you and your team are building.

Embracing Allyship: A Collection of Resources to Support the 2SLGBTQ+ Community

Being a good ally to the 2SLGBTQ+ community means educating yourself and engaging in actions that foster acceptance, respect, and understanding. At work and at our stores, we strive to create a welcoming environment for all Canadians, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Because it’s our duty as Canadians to stand up for each other and support each other as allies.

Embracing Allyship: A Collection of Resources to Support the 2SLGBTQ+ Community

In consultation with our internal Employee Inclusion Network, we’ve made a list of resources that will equip you with knowledge, empathy, and practical tools to build a more inclusive society.

Tips for Being a 2SLGBTQ+ AllyA collection of practical tips and resources from the Government of Canada on being a good 2SLGBTQ+ ally including using gender-inclusive language, demonstrating your support and speaking up when you see exclusionary behaviour.

2SLGBTQ+ Terms and Concepts from Egale CanadaFrom the website… “This document is intended to provide readers with a common, foundational understanding of language, concepts and terminology related to topics around 2SLGBTQI identities and experiences. This includes understanding systems of oppression, and also a focus on gender diversity and trans equity and inclusion.”

Pronoun Usage Guide from Egale CanadaA person’s pronouns affirm their gender identity. When we share our own personal pronouns as well as use others’ preferred pronouns, we foster an environment of respect and indicate that we are a safe space. This short and easy to understand pronoun usage guide gives tips about asking for and using a person’s pronouns.

2SLGBTQI+ terminology – Glossary and common acronymsAn important part of being a good ally to the 2SLGBTQ+ community is using inclusive language that treats people with dignity and respects the diversity of bodies, genders and relationships. This guide to terminology from the Government of Canada is a good place to start understanding 2SLGBTQ+ identities and issues. Additionally, this quick reference guide to inclusive writing gives several examples to help ensure that your communication respects gender-diverse communities.

Pride at Work CanadaAn organization that is committed to empowering employers to build workplaces that celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation.