Turmoil did not deter Canadian Paralympic experience

Team Canada performed valiantly in unprecedented conditions

Team Canada at the Beijing 2022 Paralympics opening ceremony
Ina Forrest and Greg Westlake lead Team Canada at the Beijing 2022 Paralympics opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of paralympic.ca) 

Canadian Paralympic athletes would not allow Covid-19 restrictions, and geopolitical instability, to dampen their experience in Beijing.

Team Canada finished with 25 medals to tally its second-highest total only behind the 28 won in 2018 at the PyeongChang Paralympics.

Under the cloud of doubt and criticism regarding China’s handling of the Beijing Games, a bevy of Canada’s Olympians shared a different perspective.

“The Covid-19 aspect made it different, but different doesn’t always mean bad,” said 24-year-old snowboarder Sandrine Hamel. “Once we were in China, in the village, it felt pretty good; except for the fact that when we’re competing our families aren’t there.”

  • Branden Sison
  • Collin Cameron
  • Wheelchair Curling
  • Dennis Thiessen
  • Emily Young
  • Ina Forrest
  • Lisa DeJong
  • Mark Ideson
  • Natalie Wilkie
  • Natalie Wilkie
  • Rob Armstrong
  • Tyler Turner
  • Tyler Turner

China implemented a closed-loop system to ensure the event was held safely and on-schedule.

The athletes, journalists, and officials were subject to daily testing and restrictive social activities.

“Our team would play card games together, but there was not as much interacting with other countries,” said Hamel.

Although the restriction provided inconveniences for some athletes, alpine skier Alexis Guimond appreciated the control measures put in place.

“Everyone was wearing hazmat suits, and spraying disinfectant everywhere,” said the 22-year-old from Gatineau, Quebec. “The bubble was very safe and secure.

Despite the protocols and bubble accommodations, Team Canada remained focused on embracing the experience.

Para ice hockey player Branden Sison (Edmonton, Alta.) learned that he would be completing for Canada on February 7th, just a little under month before the first puck dropped.    

“Take it all in and just really absorb everything, every moment with the highs and the lows, because you never know, you may not be back to that point again in the future,” said Sison.

Without international spectators and limited crowds, Canada’s athletes depended on unprecedented broadcast coverage ensure their families and fans were along for the ride.

For silver medalist snowboarder Lisa DeJong (Saskatoon), just knowing that her family and community had access to consistent and live coverage, gave her the confidence to focus solely on competing.

“My family support is everything, I wouldn’t have been able to go and do what I did without the support back home,” says DeJong, in an internet interview. “Being able to FaceTime while I was in China was so important for me.”

While praising the media’s improved coverage of Paralympic sports, double bronze medalist Collin Cameron believes the culmination of the work to mainstream para-sport will reach new heights if it returns to western hemisphere time zones.   

“I want to do this for at least another four years, if not eight; I’ll definitely have another four after this quad if we can get the Paralympics in Canada in 2030,” he said.

Tyler Turner used the restrictions as motivation for the next games as he felt that he missed out on experiences that go beyond competing.

“I got to see Beijing from a bus,” he said. “I think that’s what I missed getting to experience all the stuff outside of our event.”

The frozen fortune

The “Lucky Loonie,” a tradition that started in Salt Lake City 2002, found its way to Beijing in 2022.

Although it was a tradition that began on the hockey rink, it managed to find its way to the curling sheet 20 years later.

Wheelchair curling skip Mark Ideson wife’s friend always dropped off a loonie before his competitions and the Paralympics were no different.

“We did a little research before to find out what sheet the final would be on and we hid the loonie when no one was looking,” said the three-time medalist. “There’s lots of eyes out there and it’s hard to find a good spot.”

The “Lucky Loonie” struck again as it did in Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018, gold and bronze respectfully. Team Canada claimed the bronze medal on Sheet B with the coin buried somewhere beneath their feet.

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Posted: Apr 4 2022 4:06 pm
Edition: Toronto
Filed under: Special Reports Amateur Hockey Parasports Sports