Pan Am/Parapan Am Games’ wonderful, unusual, lesser-known sports

Some of the athletes competing in the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in the upcoming months have devoted their lives to sports many of us have never had the chance to see before, or maybe, haven’t even heard of.

Here’s a round-up of some of the wonderful, unusual and lesser-known sports that you can go and see at the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

Roller figure skating

Kailah Macri says that when she talks about her sport at a party, the most common response she gets is: “What’s that?”

Roller figure skating, Macri will explain to those she meets, is like ice skating, with the same jumps, spins and routines, but it’s done on roller skates.

“Some people assume it’s roller skates on ice, and will ask how that works, but I’ll tell them, ‘no, it’s on concrete or a hardwood floor,’” she said.

Roller figure skating is a Pan Am sport, but not an Olympic sport. Macri is the only roller figure skater to be competing at Pan Am Games for Canada, because there aren’t that many people who compete at a high enough level. She’s hoping that the Pan Am Games will encourage a new generation to try to advance in the sport she loves.

Boccia

Gold-medal boccia athlete Alison Levine says she usually opts to explain her sport to people by showing them a YouTube video.

“They normally say the classic line of, ‘Oh that’s cool,’ but you can tell that they don’t understand,” she said. “The best way to understand it is to see it.”

Boccia is similar to the lawn game bocce ball. Competitors throw balls aiming to get them as close as possible to a target ball, called a jack. It takes physical precision and mental strategy, and it’s one of the few sports for para-athletes that doesn’t have a counterpart in the Olympic or Pan Am Games.

“What’s very different about the sport is it’s the only Paralympic sport that’s available to those of us with severe physical disabilities,” said Levine.

Many of the boccia competitors have cerebral palsy, she said. Levine has a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. She used to play wheelchair rugby, but even though she can’t do that anymore, boccia gives her the chance to compete at the highest level of sport.

Rugby sevens

Rugby sevens is rugby, but with only seven players on either side, instead of 15. It’s fast-paced, exciting and a sport on the rise, making its Olympics debut in 2016.

Men played rugby sevens at the last Pan Am Games, but this year will be the debut for women.

One of the more unusual traditions of the sport comes from the fans, not the players, according to Team Canada member Ashley Steacy, who said many of the big men’s tournaments set a “fancy dress” theme for fans to follow when they dress up in costume.

However, women’s sevens tournaments don’t get as many fans as the men’s do, and don’t get a theme, Steacy said.

“I would hope that will change and follow suit with the men, and get that amount of fans and excitement that the men do,” she said.

Brian Kelly, a spokesman for Rugby Canada, said while there isn’t an official theme for any of the rugby sevens games at Pan Am, everyone is encouraged to wear red and maple leaves.

Canoe / Kayak Slalom

Canoe and Kayak Slalom athletes paddle a whitewater course with rapids, rocks and drops, while turning through gates. This is the first year for canoe slalom at a Pan Am Games.
Handball

Handball is what you get when you mix soccer and basketball. Players, on a court, use their hands to dribble and pass a ball that they attempt to get past the other team’s goalie and score on a soccer-like net.

Pan Am/Parapan Am Games’ wonderful, unusual, lesser-known sports