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Ottawa at the Paralympics: Canada’s 2022 Paralympic team powered by Ottawa athletes

By Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary, Ethan Diamandas & Charlie Pinkerton (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Paralympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)

And we’re back! It’s been a dozen days since Ottawa speed skater Isabelle Weidemann carried the Canadian flag to close the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

And if you caught the Opening Ceremonies for the March 4-13 Paralympic Winter Games this morning, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to spot an Ottawa athlete in the crowd of red and white when the maple leaf returned to the Bird’s Nest in China’s capital.

Not far behind flag bearer Ina Forrest was her wheelchair curling teammate Collinda Joseph of Stittsville, who’s at last getting to live her Paralympic dream for the first time at age 56.

Collinda Joseph. File photo

It’s been 16 years since Joseph fired her first rock at the RA Centre – her second attempt at finding the right parasport to fuel her competitive fires after a first foray in wheelchair basketball. And it’s been 39 years since Joseph’s springboard diving career was permanently shelved due to life-changing injuries sustained in a train crash while on a high school senior year trip to France.

There is definitely an enormous shadow hovering over these Paralympics, with a global pandemic persisting, a Games hosted by a country criticized for its poor human rights record, and the last-minute ban of Russian/Belarusian athletes over the invasion of Ukraine.

But we certainly don’t want to forget that this is the pinnacle moment for these athletes, and our team at the Ottawa Sports Pages remains very much excited to bring you stories like Joseph’s and our other local Paralympians, many of whom are no strangers to overcoming seemingly unconquerable challenges.

If you enjoyed our Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter during the Games’ first act, then you’ve got a good idea of what’ll be headed your way during the Paralympics. Throughout the 10 days of the Paralympics, you’ll find coverage from us midday (when competition will have concluded for that night in Beijing). We’ll bring you recaps, previews, profiles, features, video highlights from the CBC, and daily schedules.

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Now, we assume you’re now pros and have already gained a time zone conversion degree from the earlier Winter Olympics as well as the Tokyo Games last summer, but just in case your head ever gets groggy from all the late nights watching, our Ottawa Athletes’ Schedule tool is here to help. It’s got our local Paralympics’ schedules already adjusted to Ottawa time. It’s also downloadable to your digital calendar.

A number of the 49 Canadian Paralympic team members didn’t attend the Opening Ceremonies due to their competitions commencing just a few hours later, which is the scenario for all eight of our local Paralympians – they’ll all be in action with big events tonight and tomorrow morning (in Ottawa).

So let’s jump right in and get you ready to go as the Games begin!

Get to know your local Paralympians

Take pride Ottawa – you are the most likely hometown to be listed out of any city on the Canadian roster for the 2022 Paralympics!

Having 8 athletes from one centre is massive for a Winter Paralympic Games (which has about a quarter of the total number of participants compared to the Winter Olympics).

Half of our local representatives will compete in para ice hockey. Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario players Tyrone Henry, Rob Armstrong, Ben Delaney and Anton Jacobs-Webb are the latest in a long line of close to 2 dozen SHEO products who have dressed for Team Canada over the 8 Games their sport has been a part of the Paralympics. Canada has a history of excellence like in Olympic ice hockey, having hit the podium in all but 2 of the Paralympics, including a gold medal in 2006.

Collinda Joseph will look to carry on Canada’s perfect podium record in Paralympic wheelchair curling competition. Canada won gold in the sport’s first 3 Paralympic tournaments, and took bronze at PyeongChang 2018.

Brian Rowland (men’s sitting), Alexis Guimond (men’s standing) and Tristan Rodgers (guide, men’s visually impaired) are set to compete in Canada’s most successful Winter Paralympic sport of all-time – para alpine skiing. PyeongChang 2018 bronze medallist Guimond owns one of Canada’s 109 career medals collected in the discipline since 1976.

Our local (over)representation is hugely impressive – basically 1 in 6 Canadian Paralympians come from the capital. Now, we are being a little “greedy” claiming ownership of a couple athletes from the wider national capital region, but we’re still about 6 times ahead of how many team members you’d expect us to have based on population.

There is definitely a strong parasport tradition in the capital – home to the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and legends like Todd Nicholson, who’s highly involved in the Paralympic movement from the grassroots to the top international level. As reported by High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary, COVID’s kept Nicholson home from the Winter Paralympics for the first time since 1994 – the Games before he made his Team Canada debut in sledge hockey (now called para ice hockey).

Todd Nicholson at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics. Photo: CPC/HC/Matthew Manor

As we continue our analysis of the numbers, we’ll note that 7 of our 8 local athletes are male, which is similar to the composition of the Canadian Winter Paralympic team (35 of 49 are male).

The Winter Paralympics still have some work to do to match the Olympics’ equitable gender participation numbers, though the number of medal events comes close to being balanced for Beijing 2022 – 39 for men, 35 for women, and 4 mixed.

The 17 men on Canada’s para ice hockey team (including 4 from the capital) are the big factor in the heavier male scale. Their sport has no women’s equivalent on the Paralympic programme, though women’s para ice hockey is growing in Canada and the U.S. (we’ll share more about some local connections later on in the Games).

Our local athletes will participate in 3 of the 5 Winter Paralympic sports (snowboard and cross-country skiing/biathlon are the others). And provided things go well for our wheelchair curling and para ice hockey players, we’ll have competitions to follow on each and every day of the Games. They cram it in quick at the Winter Paralympics, so let’s get you primed for Day 1 right away.

Ottawa athletes in action on Day 1:

Day 1 Preview: Canada challenges the very best to open hockey/curling competitions

There is absolutely no leisurely warmup for the Canadian para ice hockey and wheelchair curling teams – it’ll be 0 to 100 from the get-go as they’ll each face their toughest opponents in their opening matches of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics.

Canada faces USA in para ice hockey, while the wheelchair curlers take on host China. Both Canadian adversaries are the reigning world and Paralympic champions in their sports.

Our trio of para alpine skiers will kickoff competition for the local crew. They will be launching at full speed as well when they hit the hills for the downhill starting at 9 p.m. ET tonight.

We’ll of course give you some more in-depth details on each of our local Paralympians in our upcoming newsletters, but you may like to check out our pre-Games coverage on our website too. Bookmark this link or make it your homepage for the next 10 days – our Ottawa at the Paralympics Central webpage is the go-to place to keep track of our local athletes’ progress in Beijing:

Cody Sorensen treasures final chapter in Olympic bobsled career

We’ve got a little leftovers serving for you here from our earlier Ottawa at the Olympics coverage. On the final day of the Olympics, Ottawa’s Cody Sorensen competed in the final Olympic bobsled run of his career.

Cody Sorensen. File photo

Between the rush to fly from the mountains over to the Bird’s Nest for Closing Ceremonies, we weren’t able to connect with Sorensen for an interview immediately, but once he’d landed back in Ottawa (and crashed for a 16-hour sleep), the Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe got to hear some great reflections from the now 2-time Olympian who made an unexpected leap back into bobsled this season – 8 years after his debut in Sochi.

“It was a grind of a season. A lot of people don’t see that,” noted the 35-year-old whose crew missed a couple World Cup races early in 2022 when COVID ripped through the Canadian team and put their Olympic qualification in peril.

“It wasn’t a free ticket for us to get to the Games, that’s for sure,” he added. “We had a couple crashes earlier on in training, which is never fun, and even our performance just wasn’t there early on, and it actually came down to the last race on the World Cup to kind of lock in our qualification for the Games.

“It was an emotional final run.”

You can read the full story on Sorensen’s swansong here, including coverage on a surprise visit with some newly-famous local kids who carved a replica Canadian bobsled out of snow.

And look for us tomorrow around noon as we tell you all about the first competitions of the Winter Paralympics. Thanks for joining us – we hope you enjoy the ride!

(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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