RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The players on Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team may not have finished the Rio Paralympics the way they hoped – with gold medals around their necks.
Instead, en route to a fifth place finish, they gained something else enduring and important.
Canada wrapped up its tournament Friday with a 63-52 victory over The Peoples Republic of China, and the players said getting that final win felt good.
“It feels really good, I mean it kind of brings confidence back into us that we can still do this, and still play as a team even after some tough losses and everything,” Arinn Young said post-game.
Young is one of the least experienced members of the team and she says she valued the opportunity to bond with teammates through adversity.
“Being a family as all 12 is a huge role,” Young said, after introducing herself by her nickname, “Juice.”
“I mean, lots of the girls’ experiences in London were a lot different than the experiences here. They said (that after the Games) they were kind of just dispersed and, you know, took it individually and not as a team.
“We took the losses and stuff as a team and our wins as a team,” Young said. “That’s the one thing we are, all a big family and it is going to be so sad when we all have to go and do our own thing again.”
The camaraderie is something teammate Darda Sales, a former Paralympic swimmer, will cherish, as well. Transitioning from an individual sport to a team atmosphere was new for her.
“I think we’ve grown together a lot, I mean we all come from different backgrounds and different home situations,” Sales said with tears still in her eyes from the rousing crowd support Canada received after the game.
“I think that throughout the course of this tournament we’ve had some ups and we’ve had some downs and we’ve come back, and we’ve gotten closer together and stronger together.” Sales said.
The downs were hard fought losses to the Netherlands, who finished the tournament with a bronze medal, and Germany who will leave Rio with a silver after losing to the United States 62-45 in the gold medal game.
One loss in particular stood out for Young.
“I think one of my favourite (moments) though, is our loss to Germany – 14,000 fans decided to give us a standing ovation and chant ‘Canada’. They are supporting us and I mean it was an emotional day for us for the loss and that really boosted our spirits up.
“It is good to know that another country has your back when Canada can’t be here.”
The home crowds have made a lasting impression on athletes in all sports and wheelchair basketball is no different. Sales said that the crowds would be one of the things she would remember most from her time in Rio.
“I mean the sound of these 14,000 people is intense, and when we played Brazil we knew going in it was going to be loud,” Sales said. “And that is just kind of the culture of Brazil but it was like shake-you-to-the-bones kind of loud. ”
I mean they booed us so loud when we had free throws and we had to laugh because that is just how passionate they are.”
With the tournament over, the team is looking ahead.
“I think what we are going to take from here is that the top five teams in the world are tough,” Sales said. “And you’ve got to come ready and prepared to play each and every one, and each and every one, has a little something different that you’ve got to be prepared for.”
And Canada isn’t going to back down, Sales said.
“I know that we’ll analyze these games and we’ll talk about them for the next four years and we’ll come back and we’ll show an even tougher stronger Canada.”