Though Michael Whitehead was disappointed with the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, he saw the silver lining of getting to play his beloved wheelchair rugby for one more year.
A veteran Paralympian and member of the Canadian team, Whitehead has one of the more optimistic views on the postponement of the games.
“For me personally, coming to the end of a career, I want to extend it as much as possible – so it’s kind of a best-case scenario where I get to hang out with the guys at training,” he said, in a phone interview.
“Then we’ll prepare for a Paralympics in a year and a half instead of in six months, and then potentially retiring after that.”
As a member of the offence for Canada’s wheelchair rugby team, Whitehead has been to four Paralympic games since joining the team in 2001.
Though normal day-to-day routine for every member of the team has taken a hit, Whitehead already had a remote training routine in place living away from the team that benefits him in the current situation.
“A lot of the guys live either in Toronto or Vancouver or these areas where there’s pockets of athletes, so for me, the only change is my personal trainer… I’m doing their workouts online,” he said. “The usual is [that] I push in my rugby chair up and down my driveway which has a slight incline and I train I have at home gym, so not a huge difference.”
Knowing that his spot on the team is secure and the Paralympic timeline is one of the only major changes in Whitehead’s life, he realizes that not every member of the team has this privilege with the suspension of the games.
Many other players who would have been participating in their first ever games don’t have the same luxury of knowing where they stand on a roster.
“I think there’s a level of disappointment, especially younger guys that are fighting for their position on the team,” Whitehead said. “It’s almost like they have to go make (the) team again and prepare for maybe there’s some more unknowns for them.”
The biggest takeaway for Whitehead with moving the games is not living a life without sport, but learning to appreciate it more every day, even after almost 20 years as a national wheelchair rugby team member.
“I realized most hanging out with the guys, the team and the staff traveling the world is such a privilege and it’s just so much fun – the locker room, laughs and competing at the highest level,” Whitehead said.
“There were times in my career where I definitely took that for granted.”