Paralympic athlete holds torch high

They face great adversity and courageously overcame their challenges. Forty torchbearers took part in the 2010 Paralympics torch relay when the lighting ceremony took place March 5 at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square

Shayne Smith, a wheelchair basketball player had the honour of lighting the cauldron. Smith, 21, is a member of the Ontario Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team.

When he was just four months old, he contracted meningococcal septicemia, a bacterial disease that damages the walls of the blood vessels. He was given a two per cent chance of surviving, and underwent multiple amputations, losing both legs, and parts of his upper limbs.

But this didn’t deter him from striving towards his dreams. In 2005, he was selected to play for the Canadian Junior Wheelchair Basketball team, and travelled overseas to represent Canada.

As a young child Smith played sledge hockey, but his heart was always set on basketball. He was introduced to wheelchair basketball by another sledge hockey player.

“I didn’t think it was possible for me to play wheelchair basketball, I was only eight-years-old; I didn’t know it existed,” he said. “When I tried wheelchair basketball I fell absolutely in love with it.”

There will be 55 Canadian athletes participating in the 2010 Paralympics. Smith hopes to play for the Canadian Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team at the 2012 Paralympics in London.

He said people have a lot of misconceptions towards athletes with disabilities.

“Being treated like a regular athlete is the biggest challenge. I train just as hard as an NBA player, if not harder,” he added. “I’d like to see Kobe Bryant sit on the floor at half-court with half a hand, throw a hook shot and get it in.”

Smith participates in the Ready Willing and Able Program for ParaSport Ontario, teaching young people with disabilities the importance of being involved in sports.

“I teach someone who recently become challenged, and show them they’re life isn’t over and that there is still so much they can do,” he explained.

Despite the difficulties he faces Smith considers himself lucky.

“I’m very lucky, this is the only life I’ve ever known,” he said, “but for someone who is 17-years-old, and already been through life, it’s heartbreaking to lose the use of your legs.”

He added that it’s especially hard for someone to cope with a disability at a later age.

“I met a man who lost his leg, he was a little upset, didn’t think he’d ever be able to play hockey,” Smith said. “Now he’s arguably the best sledge hockey goalie in the world.”

Alex Zator, 17, plays wheelchair basketball for the Variety Village Rolling Rebels, and it was Smith, who introduced him to the sport.

“It’s because of him that I play basketball,” Zator said, “he’s like a role model to me, I look up to him.”