RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – David Eng can carry the Canadian flag, but he can’t keep a secret.
On Sept. 6, the four-time Paralympian in wheelchair basketball was announced as Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies, but it didn’t take him long to let slip the exciting news to his teammates and family.
Weeks prior to the formal announcement Eng found out from Team Canada’s chef de mission, Chantal Petitclerc, that he was going to have the honour of leading Canada into Maracanã Stadium on Sept. 7. Right away his Team Canada teammate and close friend Nik Goncin knew something was up.
“We were in our dorms after doing simulated Rio work and he got a phone call from Chantal (Petitclerc) and he was like, ‘Oh, I think I might know what this is about,’” Goncin said. “I wanted to go to dinner so I was waiting for him to call her back, but she didn’t answer so they played phone tag for a bit and she finally phoned him back and they were on the phone for 15 or 20 minutes.”
And then it was clear.
“His eyes lit up and he got off the phone and I can’t even explain it, it was like it was his birthday,” Goncin recalled.
Eng was so excited when he found out, the two-time gold medallist admitted that he sped home to Montreal from Team Canada’s wheelchair basketball training facility in Toronto.
After letting the news slip once, he really wasn’t supposed to tell anyone else, but he couldn’t help but tell his wife.
“Stephanie was really happy for me and I wasn’t supposed to say anything, but it was too big,” the 39-year-old said. “But I trust her – she’s a customs officer, so she knows top secret stuff.”
Basketball is a team game and Eng wants to reflect that when he’s carrying the flag. The wheelchair basketball team’s co-captain made a special request to Petitclerc and see if he would be allowed to enter Maracanã Stadium carrying the flag with his teammates.
“I’m happy to share this experience with my teammates,” Eng said. “I’ve had tremendous, great teammates throughout my career and it’s a collective, team sport and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Goncin felt honoured when Eng informed the team of his plan for the opening ceremonies.
“I was actually planning on not going to the opening ceremonies, but as soon as (the team) found out he was the flag bearer it was like, ‘Wow, we need to support him,’” the first-time Paralympian said. “So, we went to the press conference (when the announcement was made) and that stuff means a lot to him.”
Eng said not only is it important to recognize the teammates that got him to this point, but also the Paralympians that have carried the flag before him.
“(Being flag bearer) is something I strived to achieve one day, especially seeing all the others at the last three Paralympics that I’ve attended that I really knew, like Chantal Benoit (in 2004 at the Athens Paralympics),” Eng explained. “When I started playing wheelchair basketball when I was 12 years old in 1989 she was the “it” person in Quebec, so seeing her as the flag bearer in 2004 really sparked my interest and allowed me to see what kind of person I have to become to be at that level.”