Blaise Mutware has gone against conventionality in the sense that he became a high-level professional in a sport he learned much later in life.
Mutware, now a member of the Canadian wheelchair basketball team, first started to play the game when he moved here from Rwanda at 13.
However, after an injury at 20, he turned to the para version, which quickly became his passion.
“I first played basketball in Grade 8, and it has been my therapy through thick and thin,” said Mutware in a phone chat last week. “After I was injured, I was fortunate enough to find a way to play basketball through wheelchair basketball.
“I didn’t even try to find a different sport, I’m in love with the game.”
Mutware bounced around from his birthplace of Hindiro, to South Africa, to Zimbabwe, before eventually settling in Toronto. He has since made the city his home, and was chosen to represent Team Canada on the national stage, including at the 2020 Summer Paralympics, in Tokyo.
“It means a lot, Canada has become home since I was 13. Especially Toronto, I love the city, love the country, love the people,” said the 27-year-old. “Being able to represent Canada on the national level, honestly, as a 13-year-old, I wouldn’t have even thought this was possible.”
Blaise, or as his teammates affectionately call him, “Johnny Blaze,” was awarded with an ‘A-level’ card at the most recent Canadian wheelchair basketball carding camp. That means he is at the highest level nationally (for funding), and essentially cemented on the first team.
“It’s motivating. I understand I’m young, I’m new to the sport, so there’s still a learning curve, I have a lot of room for growth,” he said. “But even being out there on the sidelines, watching some of the greatest wheelchair basketball players play, you still learn a lot.”
Mutware joined a Canadian men’s senior team that despite its rough showing at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in which it placed eighth out of 12 teams, is packed with veteran leadership, including star player Pat Anderson, whom he referred to as the “Michael Jordan of wheelchair basketball.”
“I’m like a sponge out there. The things he’d say, the advice he gives, you’ve just got to take that all in,” he said. “A lot of these guys have been playing for 10, 20, 30 years. I’m still fresh to the sport, but I’m able to learn and apply what I learn from them to my game.
“Blaze” has signature moves on the court, but is also adept in the kitchen; with his signature dish being “really good” eggs Benedict. Mutware is currently studying at the University of Arizona, where he plays for the Wildcats.