Elite Amateur Sport Para Sport Rugby

Accident opens door for Dagenais to compete at highest level

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Sport: Wheelchair rugby

Age: 27

Club: Ottawa Stingers

Previous Paralympics: None

By Dan Plouffe

The opportunity is there to win a medal at the London 2012 Paralympics, and Patrice Dagenais knows it. It’s been a lifelong dream to be the best in the world for the 27-year-old – first as a hockey player, and now as a member of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team.

Dagenais believes that six of the eight competing teams have a true shot at reaching the top step of the podium, and although the U.S. is the clear-cut favourite (it’s been eight years since Canada last downed their neighbours en route to silver in Athens), the #2 spot in the world rankings belongs to Canada.

“It’s not going to be easy,” notes Dagenais, whose squad fell 53-51 to the Americans in a close Canada Cup tournament final in B.C. in July. “We definitely have a chance. We’re aiming for gold, that’s for sure.”

The rivalry between the two nations in wheelchair rugby isn’t much different than the one on the ice, notes the former hockey player who captained his high school team to three consecutive league championships in his hometown of Embrun.

Dagenais was playing junior hockey for St-Isidore when his life very suddenly changed at age 18. While working on a construction site, Dagenais fell into a stairway hole from the second story of a house all the way to the basement. The result was paralysis from the chest down, and loss of some function in his arms and hands.

“It was definitely hard to experience,” says the athlete who, at 1.0, is classified toward the lower end of the sport’s scale that assigns players a point value between 0.5 and 3.5 for their functional ability. “The first couple of years, especially, were really hard.”

It took a year-and-a-half, but two players he met in Embrun encouraged him to try out wheelchair rugby with their Ottawa Stingers club.

“It’s a contact sport, so being able to hit and score goals reminded me of hockey,” recalls Dagenais, who trains at Fisher Park Community Centre and the rehab centre’s gym on Smyth Road when he’s with his local club. “I fell in love with the sport right away.”

It didn’t take long before Dagenais was playing for a provincial team, and he eventually earned his first senior national team assignment in 2009. Now he trains six days a week, multiple times per day, and is one of three players on the Canadians’ 12-man roster who will make their Paralympic debuts in London.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but I just love it,” smiles Dagenais, who spends a lot of his time in London, Ont. or the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence in B.C. where a majority of Team Canada players are based.

“I’m able to compete at the highest level, and have the chance to travel all over the world,” Dagenais adds. “There are some sacrifices, but everything’s going to be worth it when I come to the Paralympics.”

Competing at the London 2012 Games and taking a shot a gold is such a tremendous opportunity that it’s even coloured the way Dagenais reflects on the day his life changed.

“As a kid growing up following hockey, the Olympics was always a dream of mine,” he highlights. “Because of my accident and my injury, now I’m able to live that life. I’m loving what I’m doing right now.”

About Wheelchair Rugby

Besides having the same objective to carry the ball over the opponent’s goal line, wheelchair rugby has few similarities to able-bodied rugby. There is contact between the chairs as players try to block opponents from reaching the goal, although physical contact is not permitted. Players may throw, bat or roll the ball, or can hold on to it for 10 seconds before bouncing it on the court floor. Players are assigned a point value based on their functional ability, from 0.5 for the lowest ability up to 3.5. The four players on the court cannot have a combined total above 8 points.

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