Team Canada’s Paralympic rookies reflect fondly on first Games experience at Rio 2016

(Ottawa, Ont.) Many athletes would describe representing their country at the Paralympics as the ultimate goal. For nearly half of the Canadian national wheelchair basketball team athletes, that goal became a reality as the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games marked their first time donning red and white at the pinnacle event in their sport.

For these Paralympic rookies, the experience of being at the Games was nothing short of amazing. “To be able to play the sport you love in front of so many people is what every athlete dreams of,” said Team Canada athlete Liam Hickey, of St. John’s, N.L. “To be able to experience my first Paralympics with such a great group of guys who I consider brothers was an incredible feeling.”

“The overall Games environment was amazing. Everyone was excited and everyone was loving the experience. Rio is a beautiful place and even with the difficult stage that Brazil is going through it showed the world how amazing it really is and how awesome the people are.”

“Rio is a beautiful place and even with the difficult stage that Brazil is going through it showed the world how amazing it really is and how awesome the people are.”

“To put my Paralympic experience into words is utterly impossible,” said Team Canada’s Erica Gavel, of Prince Albert, Sask. “From the clothes, to the venues, to the food, to the crowds, it was the most magical thing I have ever been a part of. Over the course of my basketball career, I have had a lot of setbacks and injuries, but to experience the Games just one more time I would go through it all over again.”

The opening ceremony is often one of the great spectacles of the Games and Rio 2016 did not disappoint as athletes filed into Maracana Stadium to kick off the first Paralympics in South America. The Canadian Men’s National Team had the added bonus of entering the stadium behind their teammate and co-captain David Eng, who was the flag bearer on behalf of the entire Canadian Paralympic Team.

“My personal highlight of the Games would be the opening ceremony,” said Hickey. “The atmosphere in that stadium was more exciting than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. With so many people gathered in one area all showing their love for sport, it was incredible. The feeling of pride that hit me when I was walking into the stadium with Team Canada was unlike anything I had every felt before.”

“The one thing I remember most vividly is walking into the stadium at the opening ceremony behind David Eng as he carried the Canadian flag,” said Team Canada athlete Peter Won, of Blackfalds, Alta.. “However, my personal highlight was making my first appearance on the court in front of thousands of people.”

Throughout Rio 2016 the Brazilian fans in attendance added a thrilling element to the matches, filling the venues with their contagious energy. The Paralympics were thoroughly embraced by Brazilians, with overall ticket sales at the Games ranking second only to the records set at London 2012.

“The Brazilian fans were tremendous! They brought passion, intensity and enthusiasm. It was the most electric environment I have ever been in,” said Gavel.

“The people were amazing and the village was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Brazil really got behind Canada and the crowds couldn’t have been better. To play in front of 14,000 people is an experience you can’t replicate with anything else. I will remember this event for the rest of my life.”

Canada’s wheelchair basketball teams really got the crowds going by paying tribute to the hospitality and passion of the Brazilian fans. After each of Canada’s games, the men and women unveiled a banner with the words “Obrigado/Obrigada, Brasil” to thank the locals for their exuberant support.

Canadian family, friends and supporters were also able to represent the maple leaf amid the boisterous crowd in Rio, helping to cheer on the teams.

“The number of supporters that were able to make it was amazing,” said Gavel. “I want to say a huge thank to the people that came. We really appreciated the support.”

“Thankfully my family was able to attend the Games with me,” said Hickey. “Having them, along with some of the other athletes families in the crowd, was very special. To look up in the stands and see my family there to support me was awesome. They are a key part in the reason I got to experience the Paralympics so it was important to have them there.”

For those athletes working towards being a part of Team Canada one day, these now Paralympic veterans have some parting words of advice.

“There is a certain degree of excellence it takes to get there, then there’s another degree to win a medal. At the end of the day, it’s all of the small things that separate a person from being good to being great,” divulged Gavel.

“To anyone looking to become a Paralympian I would say that you just have to be willing to put in the extra work, the extra hour in the gym or the extra reps in the weight room,” said Hickey.

“One thing I learned throughout my journey to make it to this level was the focus and determination it takes. I still have a long way to go with my skill level but I needed to put in a lot of extra work just to get to the level I’m at right now. Just do whatever it takes to take your game to the next level. Stay hungry for your ultimate goal.”

I live an amazing life. Thank you, Rio!… Back to #YXE tomorrow!

A photo posted by Erica Gavel (@ehgavel) on

 

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