Felicia Shafiq the famous sitting volleyball superstar has also been a victor of a fatal disease that claimed both her legs.
The deepest force of our character is revealed when the moment of desperation comes. Felicia’s was no different but what made her so inspiring was her response to this excruciating moment. Instead of getting scared, the girl in turn, showed her insuperable character and faced the darkest reality of her life with courage and patience.
The 36-year-old Felicia spent the first 12 years of her life in Fiji.
She was born to a maidservant and some of her earliest memories include being the little helper to her mother who worked as a maid.
I still remember my mom working very hard to make ends meet – but only had lots of love, hugs, and kisses, to give.
But later her mother progressed to become a clerk in a car dealership and repair shop, and then took the leap to move to the US in search of better opportunities.
When Felicia was aptly educated, she started working as a part-time consultant in an IT company.
She bagged her first full-time job at Cisco Systems and later moved to Canada looking to explore new avenues.
During her pursuit, she suddenly crossed paths with SAP, hich eventually changed her life forever.
Starting there as a Support Engineer in the Product Support group, she found her first friends who were almost like a family in the course of her stint.
And, it’s through SAP again that she got introduced to volleyball.
As her career progressed, her passion for the sport increased as well.
But as they say, sweetness is volatile.
In February 2011, Felicia got sick from pneumococcal pneumonia and streptococcus, which led to her blood poisoning and septic shock, and she had to be put on life support.
The doctors were not able to determine the cause of her illness.
And as her disease progressed, her mother was asked to prepare for the funeral, because the doctors had already given up hope.
She sat down to talk to me potentially for the last time. I was in a coma, but she told me that she loved me and that if I was in pain, it was ok to let go. And if it was possible to talk to God one last time, to tell him that my mom would be very sad and very lonely and if possible, to send me back. While I don’t remember my conversation with God, I know some miracle transpired, and I was able to defeat it and come out alive.
The doctors had asked Felicia’s loved ones to anticipate brain damage due to the illness and coma.
However, when suddenly Felicia woke up, she asked what day it was, and quickly wished her best friend happy birthday.
The room blasted out in cheers and high fives. She was alive, however, both her hands and feet were now bandaged.
My first question was what happened and why my limbs were wrapped. And my second- when I could go back to work. I faced many challenges, so many that I could write a book about them alone.
She didn’t need to build an alternate career, because her managers told her that her job was secure, and all that was needed of her was to focus on her recovery. But still, there was her passion that she always wanted to realize- Volleyball!
I was completely heartbroken by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to play again. I couldn’t even watch it on TV.
Adjusting to her new reality of being differently abled and figuring out how to get out of her dark days was a momentous task.
I allowed myself to feel the bad days, but I kept reminding myself that I chose to be happy. I used the network of friends and family I had and leaned on them for support and help when I needed it.
After almost four years of surgery, rehab, and recuperation, she finally returned to work– something she considers one of her greatest milestones in life, which by the way is indeed!
It meant that I was fine to drive, to spend eight hours at work, and to become a valuable and independent member of the society again.
SAP duly ensured that she was comfortable to work in the organization. An ergonomic assessment was also done to ensure that she would be comfortable performing all her duties.
No one treated me any differently. Any perceptions I thought there would be, I had actually placed them on myself. Everyone held me to the same standard as before. After I got over my own issues about showing my legs and getting back to the gym, people actually came up to me to tell me that my strength and spirit to get healthy again inspired them to do the same.
But, I never gave it any thought because I couldn’t handle the idea of touching another volleyball.
But it was then she opted for sitting Volleyball when her destiny took the final turn to the most glamorous point of her massive success story.
According to Felicia, sitting volleyball challenges you as a player in every aspect.
I didn’t know exactly what was involved, but after the first day, I was hooked. Every part of my body hurt after that first day, but being active and healthy was one of my goals, and I knew sitting volleyball would help me achieve that.
She worked with a local volleyball coach and was soon being sent to Edmonton to train with the team once a month. She used the gym at SAP and did an extensive upper-body cardio and core weight training relative to breast, ribcage, and hips mostly
As a team, she competed in Toronto at the Para Pan American games where they won bronze that qualified them for Rio.
The great thing is that the girls have similar abilities as me, so it’s great to talk about the challenges they encounter and the issues they have had to overcome. It’s great to learn from each other, and they have been super helpful in helping me learn the sport and get better at it. I could go on about them for ages, I love them.
She is today one of the most influential names in the sitting Volleyball.
And after this rollercoaster journey of her life acceptance, she says, is liberating.
Through my experience, I did a lot of self-reflection, and I’d like to think I have a better understanding of the kind of person I am. Learn to ask and accept help. We all need it, but it’s very difficult to let go of your ego. It took me a while to accept my situation, but once I did, I was able to move forward.