By Kieran Heffernan
While the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a wedge in between the Canadian national sledge hockey team, it hasn’t slowed down the ascending Anton Jacobs-Webb.
The 20-year-old Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario product has long been involved with Team Canada and is looking to make his Paralympics debut at Beijing 2022.
In the fall of last year — amid a 10-month stint during which Canada’s perennially competitive sledge hockey team weren’t able to train as a group — Jacobs-Webb moved to Montreal to study chemical engineering at Concordia University.
Before his move, Jacobs-Webb was living with his parents in Gatineau. The revolving pandemic restrictions in the National Capital Region meant he and fellow Ottawa-area national teammates Tyrone Henry and Rob Armstrong were only scarcely able to squeeze in ice time together.
Since his move in September, Jacobs-Webb and some of his teammates who live in the Montreal area, Antoine Lehoux, Alexis Auclair, and Dominic Larocque, have been more actively training together at the Institut national du sport du Québec.
“It’s a big hub for us it’s and it’s got really good facilities. I get to train there no matter what during the COVID pandemic,” expressed Jacobs-Webb, who added that his disability hasn’t disadvantaged him during the pandemic any more than any other athlete.
Jacobs-Webb was born with his left leg shorter than his right. He had surgery to amputate his leg above the knee in 2012. He walks with a prothesis.
Being separated from his Team Canada teammates for so long, however, has been unusual.
“We’re used to (being apart) because our team isn’t centralized, but we usually have a training camp once a month,” Jacobs-Webb explained.
Most of the national team was finally reunited in Calgary at a bubble-style camp in late January. Some national team members who live with family members with a heightened risk to the coronavirus still did not attend.
“We did everything that we would do in most camps except that there was very little contact. You’re alone in your room. There’s a bunch of restrictions. We did a two-day isolation at the beginning and then we had quite a few tests throughout the camp,” Jacobs-Webb said.
Despite the large gap between training in a team-setting, Jacobs-Webb said he didn’t struggle much.
“It was at first a shock. It was kind of like my body wasn’t used to it anymore, but I’m pretty happy with my training level and everything at home that I didn’t have too much of a difficulty,” he said.
Canada’s 2022 para ice hockey (as the sport is called at the Paralympics) team won’t be chosen until much closer to the Games, which are about one year away. Without any clear indication of when he and his teammates may get together again, Jacobs-Webbs plans to continue his training in Montreal.
“I think we’re going to try and focus on getting the four players that we have here together more often and try to improve those practices, so they can be the best we can.”
While Jacobs-Webb has represented Canada twice before at the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup (the premier Canada-hosted sledge hockey tournament, which is hosted in non-Paralympic years), a trip to Beijing with the national team would represent his most significant sporting accomplishment yet.
“I’m very hopeful for Beijing,” he said in an article on the Canadian Paralympic Committee website.
“That’s what I’m working towards.”