Jessica Kerr was more than a little overwhelmed when prosthetist Amy
Richardson walked into the patient room at Holland Bloorview Kids
Rehabilitiation Hospital. Her 13-month-old son, Maddux, had just tried on
his new legs for the first time and Jessica was still coming to terms with
the changes to her family.
Richardson said someone wanted to meet Maddux, because his new prosthetic
legs reminded the stranger of his own. Greg Westlake walked in, sat down
and talked to Jessica, Maddux and the whole Kerr family.
Six years later, they’re still talking.
“It totally changed our lives that day,” Jessica says of the chance
encounter with the National Para Hockey Team veteran. “It was, to that
point, the most emotional moment we’ve had with Maddux because we were
thinking, ‘What can he do now?’”
But Westlake gave them the answer they needed to hear: everything, Maddux
can do everything. And from that point on, Westlake had a lifelong fan.
Maddux was born with fibular hemimelia and required a double-leg amputation
when he was 11 months old.
“I don’t have all the answers for all the disabilities out there, but I can
sure talk to the leg amputees; that’s something I know a lot about,”
Westlake says with a smile. It’s something his family knows a lot about,
After the initial meeting with the Kerr family, Westlake introduced Jessica
to his own mother, Deb, and the two became fast friends. Jessica still uses
Deb as a resource to navigate new milestones in Maddux’s life.
“I remember when Maddux was first going to school and I was like, ‘Ok, you
need to tell me everything I need to tell [the school] or ask them for when
he goes to school,’” Jessica says. “It’s just been so amazing to have that
connection with [the Westlake family].”
With three Paralympic medals and eight world championship medals, Westlake
is a recognizable role model for young para-athletes. But he considers his
advocacy work in more general terms, just trying to ensure those with
disabilities are given the same opportunities their able-bodied peers are.
“I think it’s important for [para-athletes] to be out in the community and
that goes all the way back to the ‘If you see it, you can be it’
mentality,” Westlake says. “I remember being a little kid myself and from
the time I was three I learned to skate on two artificial legs, and I’ve
always loved the game.
“But I never saw anybody on TV who looked like me.”
While Westlake works to increase that exposure for his sport and the
general needs for people with disabilities, his regular presence with the
Kerr family remains integral to Maddux’s understanding of his own life.
Especially when he starts asking Jessica some really hard questions.
“Maddux has said different times, ‘When do I get my real legs like you?’
and we can say, ‘Look at Greg, does he have legs like ours?’” Jessica
explains. “So that’s what your legs will be like, buddy, and look at
everything Greg can do.”
It’s a message Maddux has taken to heart and also to his leg. His current
prosthetics feature a photo of Maddux with his hero.
“Greg is my friend,” Maddux adds with a smile.