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Hometown Heroes: Team Canada Paralympic Athletes to compete in Games unlike any other

Celebrating the Special People who Drive our Sports Community,
by City of Ottawa Sport Commissioner Mathieu Fleury

Every Olympics – Summer or Winter, I get excited. The energy from the athletes, their families, our country comes together to support Team Canada.

With the cancellation last year, it was beyond disappointing for sport, athletes and their families, with a sliver of hope that if we hold on, keep training and stay focused, we can beat the virus and compete on the world stage.

And so lockdowns, vaccines, and strength helped us ensure the Tokyo 2020 Games could go on, in 2021.

And I dare say, the wait made it all that more worth it to see the determination, the millisecond wins and the pride.

I, like many Canadians, was beaming with pride as I watched our medal count go up and up – the highest it has been since 1984.

Chills ran through me as I watched the shoot-out of the Canadian women’s soccer team, featuring Ottawa’s own Vanessa Gilles. Or the final lap of Maggie MacNeil. The speed of Andre De Grasse. The outstanding performance of Damian Warner. And, our most decorated Olympian, Penny Oleksiak, take three more medals home.

Team Canada left Japan with more first and more records than before.

“This extraordinary group of Canadian athletes will always be remembered not only for their performances and results here in Tokyo but also for their determination and ability to adapt,” said Eric Myles, COC Chief Sport Officer, in a Canadian Olympic Committee statement.

And excitedly – the fun continues as our Paralympians compete Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, with 22 sports, against 161 other countries and regions.

PARALYMPICS

In total, 4,237 Paralympians will take the stage in 13 days of competition, including 128 on Team Canada. We are in for a good show with 55 athletes set to make their Paralympic debut and 26 past Paralympic medalists. The Team will be supported in Tokyo by 113 coaches and support staff.

Strict COVID-19 measures are in place, with the Canadian Paralympic Team making tough decisions to ensure their athletes are safe.

Among them is the Chair of the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Athletes’ Council Tony Walby, who was a member of Canada’s able-bodied national judo team before losing his sight at 35 and becoming a two-time Paralympian. The Ottawa native has been busy sending all the athletes messages and support leading up to the Games.

“I know a lot of them personally,” Walby notes. “I have been saying for them to have a safe journey, to stay safe. And not let the distraction of COVID take their focus away. To remember that they are at the Paralympic Games and to take that moment and soak it in.”

Retiring after the Rio 2016 Games, Walby has become a strong advocate for parasport athletes. He says this year’s Paralympics would be like none other.

“At Rio, I knew I was retiring after and it was phenomenal to know you have your family in the stands. These athletes do not get to have their families there,” he indicates. “It is a surreal moment to compete, and know your family is there with you is part of this, but these athletes are going because they are some of the greatest athletes in their sport.

“This is the ultimate – you are there because you love your sport. You are there because you are competing. I applaud these athletes to deal with what they have dealt with, and to make this journey.”

Team Canada has a strong chance at taking home several medals, Walby adds, though he doesn’t like to make predictions.

“I will say this – we have an amazing Paralympic Team. They are the most focused and inspirational in the world,” he underlines. “I am extremely proud of our team. The medals don’t matter – getting all these athletes there was the point. And they are champions already.”

So, let’s get ready to cheer them on.

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