Invermere’s Tanelle Bolt gives the fiercest of hugs. She is a lean and sinewed force to be reckoned with – even when she likes you.

Ms. Bolt said she is Canada’s first competing female wheelchair bodybuilder. At the 2019 TNT Muscle Showdown in Edmonton on Saturday, June 22nd, Ms. Bolt flexed and posed in a category all her own, earning a first-place medal and a tiara.

“They were looking for a woman to open up the doors to the competition in Canada,” she said, adding that the organizers extended a personal invitation to her 78 days before the show.

Ms. Bolt, who started the Recreation Adapted Society (RAD), said yes because she was looking for “a Hail Mary initiative” to promote the society and fill its emptied-out coffers. Currently RAD owns around $70,000 in specialty equipment that it rents out so those with disabilities can do things they otherwise couldn’t – like stand to golf or sit to ski or bike on a mountain trike.

She also said she did the fitness show: “so that there’s never a person than can look at me and tell me that they can’t until the end of time. I had four shoulder dislocations, and I hadn’t been to the gym for two and half years. Till the end of time I can always tell somebody: ‘Get up. Get your *** off the couch. What’s your excuse?’”

Five years ago, Ms. Bolt jumped off a bridge on an adventure with her friends and hit something terribly unforgiving on the way down. She has been in a wheelchair with a spinal-cord injury ever since and has had to adapt to her new body, one that comes with limits she is constantly pushing against.

On stage flexing her tanned and ripped muscles for the appreciative crowd of 300 people with “smoke guns and lights going off,” Ms. Bolt was overcome with emotion.

“I can really see my injury level and how it’s contoured my body, but it’s also still my body. I can’t hate it… I’m not ashamed of the body I currently sit in,” she said. “It was almost nice to see it in that light, you know, done up and tanned and together. And that’s the best I’ve felt about my body since my injury.”

This wasn’t Ms. Bolt’s first experience posing on stage, but it was her first time doing so in her chair.

Just before her accident, Ms. Bolt had spent $10,000 and a year in the gym to enter a fitness competition where she “just blend(ed) into a row of pretty girls” and felt invisible.

“People are a lot more genuine now. Not so fake to your face. When you walk around looking like a fitness Barbie, you get a lot of fake to your face,” she said. “I’m proud to start changing people’s perspectives on disabilities.”

Ms. Bolt was back in the Valley for a few days after the competition but is now on another adventure hand-cycling and paddling from Revelstoke to Nelson with Kootenay Adaptive Sport Association.

Next spring and summer she plans to do a six-month hand-cycling trip with RAD.

To find out more about RAD or to make a donation, visit

“Fitness for me is full of endorphins. All it does when you train for something like this is fill you with all of the good feelings. It helps stress and anxiety and PTSD,” she said. “Push your limits. Push what you think you can do.”