By Stuart Miller-Davis
They’re at different points in their career, but Ottawa’s Patrice Dagenais and Ben Perkins are doing everything they can to push Canada towards a medal at the Paralympics – it’s just going to be in a year later than expected.
For Dagenais, the trip to the upcoming Paralympic Games would represent his third shot at winning he and Canada a gold medal on the sport’s grandest stage. For Perkins, it’s his first try at landing a spot on Canada’s roster.
Back in March, Canada punched their ticket to Tokyo by cruising to a perfect 6-0 record before defeating Colombia 57-46 to clinch 1st place at the Paralympic qualifier for wheelchair rugby.
The tournament had been scheduled to have eight teams participating but was decreased to seven after Thailand dropped out due to the health concerns presented by the fast-moving COVID-19 virus.
“We didn’t have all that much time to celebrate our win,” Dagenais said about qualifying just days before Canada announced its own lofty COVID-19 restrictions and the Paralympics were postponed. “It was definitely a disappointment to know that I have to wait an extra year, but the good thing is, it was postponed (and) not cancelled. When you love what you do and play a sport that you enjoy training for, a year is not that long.”
Perkins was bumped from the roster just before the qualification tournament but says he will do everything in his power to be on the plane to Tokyo to play for Canada in a year.
“It was a wake-up call,” Perkins said. “I felt secure after going to the Pan-Am Games and getting a silver medal. Then the team went a different way with the lineups. I ended up being the 13th guy (the team takes 12 players) so it hit close to home and it pushed me to work harder.”
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Of course due to pandemic restrictions, gyms were long-closed, forcing athletes to train at home. Perkins said he’s got a full gym setup at home that allowed him to stay in shape. Dagenais said the national team has also been meeting throughout the pandemic to review video footage of past games. When restrictions started to loosen up and gyms re-opened, regional camps went ahead in London and Montreal.
“It had been four or five months since I was able to play the sport, so it was great to see the guys and compete again,” said Dagenais about the first camp held in London in August. “I was seeing some of the teammates I hadn’t seen since March, so being able to catch up and share some laughs was great. Being able to play a sport that we all enjoy playing and getting back to training harder.”
As Perkins strives to reach his goal of putting on a Team Canada jersey at the Paralmpics, he has support from his long-time teammate on the Ottawa Stingers, Dagenais.
“He has an incredible understanding of the sport,” Perkins said about Dagenais, who won a silver medal at the London Paralympics in 2012.
“If I have any questions, it doesn’t matter at any position, he knows what everybody needs to do. If I want to work on anything specific, he coaches our Ottawa Stingers team, so he intertwines what I need as a player into specific drills.”
For both Dagenais and Perkins, representing their country is paramount and bringing home a medal is what they plan to do in a year’s time.
“Competing in the Paralympics is a huge honour,” Dagenais said. “To be able to represent your country playing a sport at the highest level is very special. That’s why we work hard to hopefully bring a medal back to Canada.”
“I’ve been working towards it for quite some time now and not only for myself but just wearing a Canada leaf on a jersey is something special in itself but to do it and get some hardware at the same time is a pretty crazy feeling. It would mean the world for me and I gotta earn it,” Perkins added.