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After a life-changing accident, Beau Hayward finds ‘a new direction’ at U of T

Beau smiling and wearing a University of Toronto sweatshirt.
Beau Hayward, a third-year student studying history and archaeology, says sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2018 caused him to re-evaluate what was truly important in his life (photo courtesy of the Division of People Strategy, Equity & Culture)

Posted July 26, 2023

Published originally on U of T News: April 4, 2023

By Sean McNeely

Audio narrated by Christian Smith

Listen to the article:


For Beau Hayward, pursuing a degree at the University of Toronto is a dream – one that arose from a life-altering event.

In the summer of 2018, he dove off the dock of a friend’s cottage in Sudbury, Ont. and unexpectedly struck the bottom. Face down in the water and unable to turn over, he started to drown. Luckily, a friend found Hayward and was able to revive him on shore.

But Hayward sustained a spinal cord injury that damaged his C4 and C5 vertebrae, which caused him to become an incomplete quadriplegic, meaning he still has limited function in his upper body. A period of profound adjustment followed that involved “continuously working towards regaining my independence in any way possible.”

That included a new mindset to focus on what was truly important, and worthy of his time and energy: studying history and archaeology at U of T.
“History has always been a point of interest for me,” says Hayward, 33, a third-year student in the Faculty of Arts & Science and a member of Woodsworth College.

Beau Hayward takes his dog, Aster, for a walk on the St. George campus (photo courtesy of Beau Hayward)

“As I grew up, my dad and I started watching war movies and I fell in love with the stories. As time went on my interest diverged from military history into more political and social theory.”

He says he’s especially interested in 20th-century American history and wants to learn as much as he can about the U.S. civil rights movement.

“I’d like to study some of the documents that are coming out now, [with] archives being declassified because their 50-year classification limit is over,” he says. “The documents include what was going on with the CIA and the FBI and all the crazy stuff going on during the Cold War.

“It’s a pretty cool time to study that type of history.”

Hayward’s own history involves working as an iron worker for 10 years before the accident.

“I just did it for the money,” he says, adding that while he enjoyed the camaraderie of his co-workers, he was left feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.

“After my accident I promised myself that whatever I ended up doing, I would do something I love. I wasn’t going to spend any more time doing things that didn’t bring me any joy in life.”

These days, Hayward says he is finding joy in connecting with his professors, and “having access to some of the brightest people in the field.”

“They turn you on to some amazing material and help guide you through really complex issues,” he says. “They also give you a space to ask questions.”

He also speaks highly of U of T’s accessibility efforts.

“Before school, I heard, ‘U of T is an old school, it’s not really that accessible,’” says Hayward. “That’s a myth and it’s a shame because it really is accessible.”

He singled out the work of Michelle Morgani, an accessibility adviser on U of T’s Accessibility Services team.

“Michelle has been my adviser since day one,” says Hayward. “She helps me get funding. She helps me get educational assistance. She helps me get assistive tech. She does it all.”

Beau Hayward and his partner Meghan (photo courtesy of Beau Hayward)

He says it took time to get accustomed to navigating campus with a wheelchair.

“There are physical barriers I have to deal with once in a while, but probably 95 per cent of the classrooms are fine. It’s not ideal sometimes, but they’re workable,” he says, adding that newer classrooms have designated seating areas, adjustable desks and accessible washrooms – all of which make it easier for him to focus on his studies.

“There are lots of spaces for people with disabilities, especially for wheelchair users.”

Hayward has offered his input into several accessibility projects, including taking part in a work-study position with the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education’s sports and recreation diversity and equity team from 2020 to 2022.

“It’s a work in progress for sure, but the university is taking steps to involve people like myself with disabilities, which is a great indication of their commitment to going beyond code and asking individuals with disabilities to consult,” he says.

Like most students, Hayward balances his academic demands with being active. An avid snowboarder before his accident, Hayward says he is now a sit skier.

“It’s a real physical challenge – just the balance point on the ski and turning and having the strength takes a lot of practice,” he says. “But sit skiing has been my opportunity to get back on the mountain.”

He’s recently tried wheelchair rugby, too.

“That’s been the best community that I’ve found thus far,” he says. “It was designed for quadriplegics. Most of the guys I play with are Paralympians and they have so much to offer in way of insight.”

He’s also looking forward to trying hand-cycling this summer, while he and his partner, Meghan, are fans of sailing. He also plays a mean game of bocce ball.

“It’s fun, easy and affordable,” he says. “And for me, it’s a good option to bring people together that have a range of abilities so that everyone can play.”

Hayward is also looking forward to completing another semester.

“My experience at the university has been one of the best of my entire life,” he says. “After my accident, my life flipped upside down. I had to find a new direction and a new way to contribute, and the community at U of T welcomed me and that made the transition easy. School has given me purpose.”