Stories at the Paralympics are not limited to the field of play

Many people have travelled to Rio from afar for the Paralympics and these are their stories

Women's Paralympic wheelchair basketball player, Arinn "Juice" Young has her family on hand from Alberta to cheer her on against the Brazilians. From left: Rick (father), Jackson (brother), Colleen (mother), Gordon (grandfather) and Joan (grandmother). (KYLE MORRISON/TORONTO OBSERVER) 

Arinn Young’s family travels from Edmonton to see her shine against Brazil
Every parent wants to cheer their child to succeess in a big game, and there was no bigger game for Arinn “Juice” Young than Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball game Sept. 12 against host nation Brazil.

And Juice was definitely loose.

Juice is the nickname Young received for the tear she went on in a game in Edmonton after her coach gave her a juice box to boost her energy.

The first-time Paralympian scored a game-high 22 points in a rowdy Olympic Arena in front of her parents, brother and grandparents and they couldn’t be more proud of the 20-year-old.

“It’s awesome (to see her perform so well),” Arinn’s mother, Colleen said. “Just to see her get those minutes in the Paralympics is awesome.”

Colleen has had to be more fan than mom because Arinn’s schedule has been so strict and they haven’t had much time to spend together, but they text when they can and she always has a special message for her every night.

“Before I go to bed I always send her a text,” Colleen said. “I say, ‘We love you, play hard, have fun and follow through – always follow through on your shots. (Arinn) always responds with ‘LOL’ and thinks it’s funny. It’s her coaches and teammates that are the ones with all the knowledge, (her father, Rick and I) just watch and cheer.”

And as long as Juice is on the loose, they’ll continue to follow.

“We’ve been to the 2014 World Championships and 2015 Parapan Am Games to watch (Arinn) in Toronto and now here in Brazil and it’s been awesome,” Colleen said. “(Rick and I) try to save our money to go travel wherever she is.”


Canadian, Stelios Nikolakakis took his sons, Thomas (far right) and Gabriel to Brazil for the first time to experience the Paralympics and see the country where Nikolakakis’s wife is from. (KYLE MORRISON/TORONTO OBSERVER)

Canadian youngsters being introduced to Brazilian roots
It was more than just the sports that drew Stelios Nikolakakis and his wife, Fabiana Bacchini, to the Paralympics in Brazil.

Nikolakakis, a Toronto native, met Bacchini, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and they started a family in Canada. But with the Paralympics arriving in Rio, it was time for their seven-year-old, Thomas, and four-year-old Gabriel to see what their mother’s culture has to offer.

Thomas and Gabriel were headed to Rio landmarks Christ the Redeemer, museums and possibly Sugarloaf Mountain, but when it comes to sports it’s still all red and white.

Even sitting alongside many raucous Brazilian fans cheering for the home side against Canada in women’s wheelchair basketball, the Nikolakakis family was decked out in Canadian gear, with maple leaves painted on their cheeks.

“It’s going to be heated between the Canada and Brazil people,” Stelios said before the game. “But (the Brazilians) love Canadians. Everyone from back (in Canada) who went to the Olympics loved it and we’re experiencing the same thing and we felt this same sort of feeling when I went to the World Cup (in 2014) and it was just as incredible.”

Sophie Spallone considers volunteering at the Olympics and Paralympics a “life-changing exchanging experience”


Sophie Spallone has had so many amazing experiences as a volunteer for the Olympics and Paralympics including being introduced to one of her new favourite sports: water polo. (KYLE MORRISON/TORONTO OBSERVER)

After missing out on volunteering at the summer Olympics in 2012 in her hometown of London, England, Sophie Spallone wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass her by again.

Spallone volunteered at the Olympics but had to be coaxed into staying longer for the Paralympics – and she couldn’t be happier.

“It was busy at the Olympics, but the number of Brazilians that are coming to watch these sports (at the Paralympics) seems to be much higher and the Brazilians that are here are really behind (all the athletes),” Spallone said.

“Even just watching Algeria (in women’s wheelchair basketball) the fans got behind Algeria and are supportive of all the athletes.”

As a press operations team member, Spallone doesn’t get to choose where she’s stationed, but because of her accreditation, whenever she has downtime she tries to get out to an event with British athletes competing.

“I went to the athletics (on Sept. 11) and saw two Great Britain golds and two British athletes in the 200 metres won gold and bronze so that was quite special,” she said. “The athletics … I don’t know how they do it. The guys that are blind and are running with guides I think is just amazing.”

Not only has she seen her British athletes perform in the Olympics and Paralympics, volunteering at the Games has allowed her to see sports she never thought she ever would – including one that she’s really taken a liking to.

“I’m now considering taking up water polo,” Spallone said. “That’s where I was working before (for the Olympics) and I really enjoyed it so when I get home (to London) I’m going to go looking for some water polo clubs.”

With the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan, she’s not sure if she’ll become one of, what she likes to call, the “serial volunteers” who hop from one Games to the next all over the world. But, she’s loved the experience and plans on volunteering at the 2017 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Canadian parliament jumps into the pin-trading craze
Pin trading is a big part of the Olympics and Paralympics – take one look around the open concourses of any venue and there will be pins of flags, mascots and logos on backpacks, lanyards, hats and shirts.

Even Pokémon character Pikachu has gotten into the Olympic spirit in pin form. Japanese broadcaster TVTokyo began trading the iconic pin at the 2012 Games in London, and it has been a sought-after been ever since.

Patrick Borbey, associate deputy minister at the department of Canadian Heritage, was in the Rio 2016 Megastore in Olympic Park and he, too, was showing off some interesting pins from Canada and elsewhere, collected from individuals with whom he’d traded.

Displayed on his credential lanyard were pins noting Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, one from the Chinese delegation and another from a Rio police force.

“I felt more protected as a result (of getting the Rio police pin),” Borbey joked. “I did a bit of trading, but I brought a lot of pins from Canada so I’ve been giving them out because people love Canada and love seeing Canadian pins and our flag.”

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Posted: Sep 13 2016 10:47 am
Filed under: Basketball ParaBrazil16