09/12/2016 14:24 EDT | Updated 09/13/2017 01:12 EDT

Oakes starring for Canada's Paralympic volleyball team 13 months after accident

RIO DE JANEIRO — In the hours after the boating accident that nearly took her life, Jennifer Oakes posted a photo on Instagram.

She's standing on a rocky beach watching the sun go down. She captioned it, playfully: "Tb (throwback) to 2 legs."

The 18-year-old from Calgary is playing on Canada's sitting volleyball team at the Rio Paralympics just 13 months after her right leg was amputated below the knee.

And if some of the 781 people who liked her Instagram picture joked that it was "Too soon!" it's her "very healthy sense of humour," said her mom Kathy, that has helped her thrive in her new reality.

"She's always been a bit of a stubborn child, and now that tenacity is paying off," Kathy Oakes said. "She's got that tenacity, plus she's got a good outlook and positivity about her that's fantastic."

Oakes' light-hearted approach, she explained, was a way of putting others at ease.

"Kind of since the beginning, I thought I would have a good sense of humour about it so people were comfortable talking with me about it, because I was open about it," Oakes said. "And if they wanted to ask any questions, I was there to answer them."

Oakes was out boating last summer with friends when they hit a wave, and Oakes, who wasn't holding on, was pitched off the front and run over. The propeller missed her head and torso by inches.

She was flown by air ambulance to Calgary's Foothills Hospital, receiving two litres of blood en route.

That was Aug. 10. Just three days earlier in Toronto, Canada's Paralympic athletes — including the sitting volleyball team — had marched into the opening ceremonies of the Parapan Am Games.

Almost immediately, Oakes, a strong player at the high school, club, and provincial level, started thinking ahead. 

"We were all super worried about her and mourning for her," said her older sister Sarah. "And then within three days, she was already talking about sports and talking about what she wanted to do, and we all knew she was going to do whatever she wanted to do. I think volleyball was just what she wanted to do."

While Oakes was still in hospital, the family watched and pulled for the sitting volleyball squad in Toronto.

"We were hoping they played well enough to make it to the Olympics, because in Jenn's mind, she was already starting to process and think about what direction she might be able to go," Kathy Oakes said.

Canada's coach Nicole Ban knew of Oakes and heard about the accident, and encouraged her to come out and practise with the team.

"As soon as she sat down she was able to do all the skills from the standing game very easily," Ban said. "But it was her movement, and her realizing that she was performing these skills very well, and at a high level that really allowed her to enjoy sitting down on the ground with her new body. And also embracing the sport."

The movement of the seated game, Oakes said, is "super tough." It's a lot easier to get up and run down a ball than it is to scoot along the ground.

She hasn't given up the standing game, and was back playing club volleyball this past season.

"She got her prosthetic in October. And she was playing club volleyball by. . . October," Kathy said, laughing. "She made it through the season and made it to nationals with her club team and was a starter and played almost the whole time."

Because jumping is her toughest challenge, she switched to the libero position, a defensive back-row player who cannot block or attack the ball when it's above net height.

She'll head straight from Rio to the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, where the coaches have invited her to practise with the varsity team. Her mom hopes she'll make the squad next season, following in the footsteps of Austin Hinchey, an amputee athlete from Edmonton, and a member of Canada's men's sitting vollleyball team who played CIS volleyball for UBC.

Oakes' Paralympic teammates, meanwhile, have helped her adapt to her new body.

"They're always there to answer any questions that I have or try to help me problem-solve if anything is hurting, we always talk about what we need as players and as amputees, and with a disability," Oakes said. "They're always around and are super supportive."

Said Kathy: "All these girls have gone through traumatic things, all kinds of variances of why they're here. But they've all worked really hard to overcome those obstacles, and I'm really proud of the whole team."

The Canadian women, who are making their first Paralympic appearance, are 0-2 after losses to host Brazil and the Netherlands. They meet Ukraine in their final preliminary round match on Tuesday.

The Paralympics opened amid fears of empty stadiums after reports of poor ticket sales. But Canada's games have been played in front of festive and jam-packed crowd of 7,000 fans, rivalling any crowds for the Olympics a month earlier.  

"You kind of expect to have an empty venue, and then you go out there and it's just crazy," said team captain Jolan Wong of Petawawa, Ont. "You can always find the Canadians in the crowd, but it feels like everyone is behind you. All you hear on the court is noise. And you just pretend it's for you."

Sitting volleyball is fast-paced because the ball isn't in the air as long. The net, for women, is 1.05 metres high, compared to 2.24 metres for the standing game. Players must have at least one buttock on the floor when they make contact with the ball.