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Ottawa at the Paralympics Day 1: Meet your local Paralympic team

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This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

By Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary & Madalyn Howitt

We’re back! We hope you managed to get back on a regular sleep schedule these last couple weeks after the challenge of watching the Olympics on the other side of the world… Because now we’re back on again for the Paralympics!

You’ve likely learned by now that Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of us, which means:

Morning events in Tokyo = Previous evening in Ottawa
Daytime in Tokyo = Overnight in Ottawa
Night in Tokyo = Morning in Ottawa

Yes, some of our local athletes will be competing in the wee hours, but there are also a lot of events you can watch in “primetime” in the evening, or when you wake up. will have live streams of many events, and you’ll see the Games on TV too.

And what will we give you exactly? Well, if you enjoyed our Ottawa at the Olympics coverage, you’re in store for more of the same. Your Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter will arrive in your inbox each day around lunchtime – that’s when competition will have concluded for the day in Tokyo. We’ll have daily recaps and previews, schedules and interviews with our local Paralympians from today until Sept. 5.

And who are those Ottawa Paralympians competing in Tokyo? Glad you asked!

Ottawa at the Paralympics Special Edition Newspaper

Hot off the presses is our Ottawa at the Paralympics special edition of the Ottawa Sports Pages newspaper. You’ll be able to find copies around town (pickup locations are listed on this page – we encourage you to go to an outdoor distribution box if you’re headed out since sports facility operating hours remain irregular), and you can also read the online edition here).

Better yet, here’s a webpage you’ll want to bookmark – OTTAWA AT THE PARALYMPICS CENTRAL is where you can find links to all our coverage.

We’ll be following 6 local athletes competing at the Aug. 24-Sept. 5 Tokyo Paralympics: Team Canada wheelchair rugby captain Patrice Dagenais, newly-transformed rugby player-to-paddler Brianna Hennessy, University of Ottawa Gee-Gees swimming alum Camille Bérubé, and the Ottawa-powered Canadian women’s goalball team contingent of Whitney Bogart, Amy Burk and Emma Reinke.

We’ll tell you more about each of them as we go along through this 13-day adventure.

Let the Games begin!

The Opening Ceremonies were held today in Tokyo, and the woman carrying the maple leaf has an Ottawa connection. Priscilla Gagné‘s journey to become one of the world’s top judokas included a stop in the capital.

In the lead-up to her Paralympic debut in 2016, Gagné moved to Ottawa, drawn to the coaching available from the likes of national team coach Andrzej Sadej and 1996 Olympian Nathalie Gosselin. The visually-impaired athlete who’s now based in Montreal also received guidance at the Takahashi Dojo from Tony Walby, a former able-bodied judo national team member who went on to compete at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics after losing his eyesight. (Sports Pages Executive Director Dan Plouffe will never forget when Walby slammed just about the largest human being he’s ever encountered in the unlimited weight class in London in the photo below).

Tony Walby at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. File photo

Walby has since retired, but has kept very busy giving back to the sport, particularly in athlete advocacy. The Canadian Paralympic Committee athletes’ council chair spoke to City of Ottawa Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury for his latest Hometown Heroes column (which appears in each edition of the Ottawa Sports Pages) in advance of the Games.

Walby has spoken to many of Canada’s Paralympians headed to Tokyo for what will of course be a Paralympics unlike any before.

“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,” Walby shared. “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.”

Canada’s 128-athlete contingent is a strong one that will surely hit the podium many times, Walby notes, though he believes these Games are little less about the results than usual.

“I am extremely proud of our team,” he underlined. “The medals don’t matter – getting all these athletes there was the point. And they are champions already.”

Ottawa Paralympians in action on Day 2:

We’ve got a few competitions to get you started right away tonight and tomorrow morning, with wheelchair rugby and goalball getting underway.

If you’re not very familiar with the sport of goalball, well, let’s get you up to speed because we’re going to be talking about it a fair bit in the coming days, with half of our local team (which is also half of the Canadian team) playing the sport for athletes with visual impairments.

Sports Pages reporter Madalyn Howitt notes in her intro piece that goalball is one of only two Paralympic sports that doesn’t have a direct equivalent event in the Olympics (the other being boccia).

In goalball, players wear eyeshades and compete in three-on-three matchups where they try to throw or roll a ball containing a bell into their opponent’s goal.

Using hand-ear coordination, players use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball and throw themselves in the way of it to block goals and passes.

The sport is played in silence – if too much noise is present in the venue when a player throws, the referee will blow their whistle and the shot won’t count (the unhappy baby holding up a tense match is another London 2012 memory of Plouffe’s).

“You have to really see the game in person or on video to actually get an idea of how challenging [it is],” said Trent Farebrother, coach of Canada’s women’s goalball team and himself a two-time Paralympian in 1988 and 1992.

“Players are throwing the balls upwards of 60 kilometers an hour, [which] doesn’t give them much time to react. The speed the game is impressive, and how people can orientate themselves without their sense of sight.”

Ottawa is a bit of a goalball hotbed in a way. The women’s national team centralized in the capital in advance of London 2012, training primarily out of Algonquin College. The centralized setup faded along with Own The Podium funding after 2012, though Ottawa often serves as a base for training camps. And of course it’s become home for 3 players – veterans Whitney Bogart (competing in Paralympics #3) and four-time Games participant Amy Burk, and Paralympic rookie Emma Reinke, who will study biology at Carleton University after the Games.

Alright, we are officially off and running – enjoy the Games and we’ll see you tomorrow!

This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

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