Jennifer Oakes makes her Paralympic debut Friday for Canada's sitting volleyball team. Matthew Murnaghan/Canadian Paralympic Committee

Paralympics were not in the plans for Canadian rookie competitor

A mere 14 months after a tragic accident, Jennifer Oakes makes her sitting volleyball debut on the world's biggest stage

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Two years ago, Jennifer Oakes would not have dreamed of playing for Team Canada’s sitting volleyball team – not because she wasn’t good enough, but because she wasn’t eligible.
Until 14 months ago, Oakes was a fully functional able-bodied high school standup volleyball player.
Then, a boating accident cost Oakes her right leg, and it took her a little over a year to bounce back.
“The first thing I did when I was out of the hospital is to get a volleyball back in hand and I was playing against the wall,” she said courtside at the Riocentro. “I was doing anything that I could and my long term goals were always to be able to play volleyball again so I just worked as hard as I could from the day I started physio on.”
On Friday, the hard work paid off.
Oakes, 18, played her first game as a Paralympic athlete for Team Canada’s women’s sitting volleyball team. In front of a crowd of 5,279 people, Canada took on the host nation Brazil team and lost 3-0.
“I can’t say I was really expecting that much hype for our first game,” she said. “I’m almost used to playing with noise, but that’s really hard to block out when the crowd is cheering and it’s that exciting.”
The amount of support that sitting volleyball has received is mind-blowing to Oakes.
“It’s been insane to see all the fans that are out there that come into watch this sport,” she said. “It’s great to see the growth and support for this sport and the Paralympics itself.”
Among those in the crowd were Oakes’ close friends and family. Draped over the rail in the front row of the Canadian section was a giant banner that read, “Jennifer Oakes #10”.
It served as a reminder to the Calgary native that the support system that was integral to her recovery is still there for her, even south of the equator.
“They are a huge part of why I’ve been doing so well and how I’ve been able to push through this circumstance and I am super grateful for them.”
Despite attending their first Games, Oakes and her teammates showed no signs of nervousness in the Paralympics spotlight. Danielle Ellis won eight points while Oakes and Leanne Muldrew each won four.
Team Canada’s next match is Sunday against Netherlands at 2 pm local time (1 pm ET).