If confidence is half the battle, then Canadian Women’s National Team player Kady Dandeneau is well on her way to victory.
Dandeneau’s self-assurance stems from the knowledge of having put in the work to unleash the full power of her potential. All of the gruelling hours on the court and in the gym, and the time away from her family and friends, have been a worthwhile investment in becoming the player she longs to be.
The wheelchair basketball world caught a glimpse of that player this past season, when Dandeneau mopped the floor with her opponents and then cleaned up in the awards department to boot. And she’s not done there.
“I’m always going to be the first person to say that there’s so much more that I can do and that I can get that much better, but I’m still very confident in where my game is at,” she said. “I know the work that I’ve put in and I know the work that I’m going to put in. I don’t see myself not being successful because I do put the work in.”
It’s been five years since the product of Pender Island, B.C. made the switch from stand-up basketball to the wheelchair game. She went from running up and down the hardcourt for the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) Timberwolves, to being sidelined by injuries, then to wheeling her way onto Team Canada. While it’s been a bumpy road at times, her drive to become an impact player never wavered.
“There was a point where there was struggle and frustration,” she said. “I just really didn’t feel like I could do the things I wanted to do. I had this disconnect between the player I was mentally and where I was physically. I had to start from the bottom again when I started wheelchair basketball. It wasn’t until last year when I really started to feel like the player I wanted to be and I could do the things I wanted to do.
“My mindset this whole time with playing wheelchair ball, I’ve always just said to be patient, put the work in and you’re going to get there. I’ve always known that. I’ve always had that belief.
“I think this past year, I’ve started to see that pay off. I’ve always known that I could have an impact and I just had to put the work in to get there. I have a big passion for the game. I love playing basketball. It’s just fun and I love to go out there and compete and give it your all. I think that shows on court for me.”
What she showed on court last year landed her the title of Wheelchair Basketball Canada Female Athlete of the Year, presented by Grosso Hooper Law.
“It’s always nice to have that recognition but it’s been a long process. The award was a nice signal that I’m almost there and one step further along the way. I still have a ways to go to be the player I want to be, but it was a cool milestone.
“It’s definitely an honour and there are a lot of great athletes who have gotten that award before so it’s pretty cool to be named among them. An honour and I’m just going to keep working and keep trying to get better. The ultimate goal is a gold medal in Tokyo.”
She admits that seeing Tokyo 2020 postponed until 2021 is a tough pill to swallow. With basketball – and the Paralympic dream – currently on hold amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Dandeneau has been filling the void by watching replays from previous Paralympic Games on YouTube.
“I’ve been watching pretty much every wheelchair basketball game I can find online,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just itching, I want to go to Tokyo so badly. I want to be there. It’s going to be so cool and so fun and I just want to play basketball.
“I am so ready for Tokyo. I think the rest of the team is too. Having another year to prepare is only going to be advantageous for our team. But that desire to compete and play is right there.”
While her confidence in her own game continues to blossom, Dandeneau is equally assured in her Team Canada teammates and the work they’re all doing on the road to Tokyo.
“I think we have such an awesome, talented group,” she said. “We’re a fairly young squad. We haven’t been together very long at all but I’ve always known that this team can be so good.
“They’re a great team and I’m really excited to go after our ultimate goal together in Tokyo. I couldn’t be happier to have them as teammates and have them be the ones that I get to go into battle with each time.”
A fiery competitor, this hiatus has her missing the ability to compete and train at a high level. She’s still in touch with her teammates through virtual team meetings and workout sessions. They’ll be ramping up training from home at a time when Team Canada would normally centralize as a group at the National Training Centre in Toronto for the summer training block.
Right now, Dandeneau is also working remotely to complete her first year of studies towards a masters in kinesiology at the University of Illinois, where she also starred for the women’s collegiate wheelchair basketball team.
Dandeneau made quite the impression in her debut as a member of the Fighting Illini. She was named Female Player of the Year in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) collegiate division, to go along with first-team All-American honours and a selection to the All-Rookie team. The decision to pursue basketball alongside academics south of the border was a no-brainer.
“Illinois has a really good program with a really good culture to it,” she said. “It has a really storied basketball history. Some of the greatest athletes in the sport have attended the school. I’m really happy with the choice I made to go there and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.
“The main reason I was looking to go there was to be able to play for Steph Wheeler. I know she’s got a lot of experience and offers a new perspective. I think that’s one of the big things when you’re trying to build yourself as a player, as an athlete, and even as a person, is getting those different perspectives from coaches.
“She’s pretty highly regarded in the sport, obviously quite successful as an athlete and as a coach and has a few Paralympic golds to her name. It’s been really great having her input. She’s really helped me as an athlete, especially from a mental perspective and trying to help me be able to get the best out of teammates and get the best out of our team.”
While basketball has taken her far from home, Dandeneau is quick to go back to her roots and credit the wheelchair basketball community in B.C. and her extended Timberwolves family for always supporting her on her journey.
“It’s a great feeling when you have so many people that think about you and care about you like that, and go out of their way to make sure that you have what you need to succeed. They’re a stand-up bunch of people so I’m very lucky to have them have my back and support me the way they do.”