By Adamo Marinelli
COMMONWEALTH GAMES-BOUND SERIES (Part 4 of 4):
Veteran wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy is set to return to his first international multi-sport games since the Rio 2016 Paralympics, and the 37-year-old’s persistence will be rewarded with the chance to be Canada’s opening ceremonies flag bearer when the 2022 Commonwealth Games kick off on July 28 in Birmingham, England.
“What an honour and what a huge surprise,” Cassidy, who will carry the maple leaf alongside weightlifter Maude Charron, said in a Commonwealth Sport Canada announcement on Thursday. “This is going take some time to sink in, but this opportunity is something that when you’re starting out as an athlete, to be a flag bearer for a Games is always recognized as such a prestigious thing.”
This will be the three-time Paralympian’s third Commonwealth Games appearance, following his bronze medal performance at Delhi 2010 and a 4th-place finish at Glasgow 2014. Cassidy will compete in the T54 men’s marathon (July 30) and the 1,500 metres (Aug. 3 heats and Aug. 5 final).
In an interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages earlier this week, Cassidy noted that the Commonwealth Games rank very high on the totem pole of international competitions in his mind.
The Commonwealth Games integrate parasport competition into the regular Games programme (and count in the medal standings). This year’s Games also offer the opportunity to compete in parasport’s birthplace in England – where Cassidy competed in front of a sold-out stadium of 80,000 every night at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
“The execution of the Commonwealth Games, not only logistically, but also the team dynamic created, makes the Games so much fun,” highlighted the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club athlete. “The Commonwealth Games are right with the Paralympics in terms of the platform and execution and the spectacle.”
These Games will also be special for Cassidy since they’ll be his first major competition as a father. His first child was born this past fall, adding to a household that includes his partner’s 4-year-old twins.
“Things at home are super crazy,” smiled Cassidy, noting that despite many sleepless nights and added parental responsibilities, he’s been able to draw on his veteran acumen to prepare effectively for the Birmingham Games.
“I have so much more knowledge and experience from a training perspective to utilize. I guess my experience allows me to train smart,” Cassidy added, explaining that he’ll often train at a high intensity in short intervals to get the most of every workout.
Missed Paralympics powers renewed push for veteran racer
Though many of his top career achievements came a decade ago – victories at the London marathon in 2010, and Boston and Chicago marathons in 2012 are highlights – Cassidy has displayed peak form in recent years.
He competed for Canada at the 2019 World Championships, and achieved personal-best times in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which wound up being delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic.
The postponement worked out for Cassidy since he was recovering from a torn rotator cuff when COVID hit, and it gave him more time to heal, train, and prepare.
“It was hard because I lost out on treatment for my injury,” he indicated, noting that his team supported him as best they could while he was “self-treating” at home.
“Not competing for so long because of my injury and the pandemic was strange considering I’m normally racing more than once every month. “That was certainly an adjustment, but I felt like I navigated really well,” added Cassidy, who was born in Ottawa and has lived in southern Ontario most of his life.
When competition resumed, Cassidy satisfied the international high-performance standard required to qualify for the Paralympics, but was bypassed for selection to a shrunken Canadian team along with many other highly-ranked athletes.
That was a tough pill to swallow for Cassidy since his division is perhaps the most competitive of all para-athletics disciplines, he noted. Cassidy was ranked ninth in the world, and his best time was within 98 percent of the world record.
“I was certainly deflated after the decision. I tried everything possible to get on the team, even appealing,” signalled Cassidy, who had some issues with Canada’s selection process, though his bigger complaint was that the International Paralympic Committee should have awarded more berths to Canada (which had 16 para-athletics entries for Tokyo, compared to 24 and 26 for Rio and London), and other nations as well.
“There were seven marathon athletes ranking in the top 10 in the world that didn’t get to go and there were only 16 athletes on the line when they could have had a field of 40,” outlined Cassidy, an illustrator outside of sport who’s done past work for Marvel Comics, which has become a renewed focus of his recently.
After his six-year absence from multi-sport competition, Cassidy doesn’t want the Commonwealth Games to be his last. While he recognizes that more of his athletic career is behind him than in front, Cassidy plans to push on to the Paris 2024 Paralympics.
“Not having a [Paralympic] medal has fueled and motivated me to work even harder at this stage in my career,” underlined the triple Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games silver medallist. “What I love about this sport is the constant pursuit of trying to be your best self. That motivates me, despite my age, to just continue to stay healthy and see what I can do.”
Local team of 13 will compete in Birmingham
There will be 13 National Capital Region and Eastern Ontario athletes representing Canada at the July 28 to Aug. 8 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England:
ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS – Jenna Lalonde (Ottawa), Ottawa Gymnastics Centre.
ATHLETICS – Josh Cassidy (Port Elgin, ON.), Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club; Lauren Gale (Ottawa), Ottawa Lions; Madeleine Kelly (Pembroke), Royal City Athletics Club.
CYCLING – Ngaire Barraclough (Edmonton), Ottawa-based Cyclery Racing Team; Ariane Bonhomme (Gatineau), Canadian women’s team; Derek Gee (Osgoode), Israel Cycling Academy.
FIELD HOCKEY – Rowan Harris (Ottawa), Canadian women’s team; Alexander Bird (Chelsea), Chelsea Phoenix Field Hockey.
RUGBY 7s – Olivia de Couvreur (Ottawa), Ottawa Irish; Pamphinette Buisa (Gatineau), Ottawa Irish/University of Victoria; Elias Hancock (Ottawa), Bytown Blues.
SWIMMING – Camille Bérubé (Gatineau), Natation Gatineau.
Read the three earlier segments in our Commonwealth Games-bound Series:
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