Lovepreet Deo used to be a little girl who endured stares from people, due to her cerebral palsy, and kept her dreams to herself.
“I was in my own little world, I didn’t open up to anybody,” recalls Deo.
Deo knew no one when she moved to Airdrie with her family as a 27-year-old in 2008. Feeling alone and bored, her family encouraged her to go to the gym in 2014.
“I went one day and never looked back,” says Deo, now 41 and a fixture at Genesis Place, punching in no less than 175 times in 2022. “The gym is one of the places where I feel like I’m accepted for who I am, where I don’t feel like I have a disability.”
Shortly after she first used public transit and her walker to get to the gym, her trainer, Dawn Sorsdahl, helped her begin setting goals. Ever since, Deo’s been pushing back at what was deemed impossible for her motor disability and slight, five-foot-tall frame.
Deo’s routine is that of an elite athlete. When her 5:30-6 a.m. alarm rings, she often swings her legs out of bed and shuffles over to her stationary bike in her room for a quick five-kilometre cycle. She then eats breakfast and, three-to-five days a week, goes to the gym for a bike ride or workout with Sorsdahl. After the gym, she works from home.
Since joining Genesis, Deo’s completed multiple 20-plus kilometre races on her tricycle, challenged herself to stair climbs and daily step goals, raised thousands of dollars for the Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta and won a variety of awards and recognitions.
“I needed something to spark the fire, and I think that being at the gym did that,” says Deo.
When she completes one challenge, she takes on another, and beginning in 2019 she wanted to bike 2,000 kilometres in one year.
There were setbacks to aiming at the lofty goal. Health issues stopped her the first year, then the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted things in 2020-2021. When 2022 rolled around, she leaned into the challenge.
Her friends and staff at Genesis Place, Brad Anderson and Shawn Livingstone, took on the challenge with her, and by last September, she was about 1,500 kilomteres towards her goal, but exhausted.
“I looked at Shawn and I told him, ‘I’m tired, I give up,’” recalls Deo. “He looked and me and goes, ‘Give up then.’”
That was the necessary chirp only a true friend could give to light a fire under Deo.
“If you tell Lovepreet, ‘you can’t do something’, then she’s going to prove you’re wrong,” says Livingstone.
In the end, all three passed the finish line, and when Deo finished her 2,000 kilometres on December 15, 2022, she continued riding routinely until New Year’s Eve, and crushed the goal, cycling over 2,100 kilometres for the year.
Anderson also completed the challenge, logging most of his kilometres on his electric bike during his daily commute to manage Genesis Place.
“She’s just inspired so many over the years in terms of her tenacity and resiliency, taking on challenges as they come and still keeping such a smiling face all the time,” says Anderson.
Deo bought Anderson a t-shirt to wear while he works out. It reads “Lovepreet Beat Me At Biking.”
Living with a disability makes Deo standout in a crowd, sometimes receiving unwanted stares or words from strangers. After nine years of good-natured, often colourful banter with friends and tons of smiles, hugs and support, she no longer lets “stupid comments or looks bring me down anymore.”
“I’m not letting my disability define me,” says Deo. “I’m more at peace with my disability. I love Genesis Place. Everybody needs a place like Genesis.”
She’s even taken foray into the modeling world and been photographed recently for Buttercream Clothing and Kello Inclusive, a talent agency exclusively representing disabled and visibly different people.
As 2023 began, she turned her focus to a new goal – 500 kilometres of rowing on a machine along with 1,000 kilometres of cycling.
Given her past history, it seems like a pretty sure bet.
Editor’s note: Lovepreet is a former winner in the Amazing Courage category of our annual Amazing Airdrie Women awards and was on the front cover of our Spring 2017 issue.