Iulian Ciobanu in Rio with Senator and Paralympian, Chantal Petitclerc
Iulian Ciobanu’s family packed their bags and moved from Moldova to Canada in 2010. As a person living with a disability, Ciobanu didn’t feel that he had the same opportunities to build a family and career in Moldova. He also felt that Canada would be more stable economically, politically and socially. From 2010 to 2014 Ciobanu settled in with his wife Corina and daughters, Alexandra and Eleonora while simultaneously learning French and English as a Québec resident.
Ciobanu discovered boccia after participating in a demonstration in 2014 at a conference hosted by Muscular Dystrophy Canada in Montreal. Before coming to Canada, he did not know that there was a sport available for individuals with Muscular Dystrophy. At the age of 31, he quickly “took a shot” at the sport after his friends, family, current teammates, and National Boccia Training Squad Head Coach Mario Delisle convinced him to try it out.
“Being an opportunist in life, I did not hesitate and was willing to accept the challenge. When there is an opportunity to make a change, you have to take it.”
Ciobanu quickly excelled in the sport. Within a year of being introduced to boccia he made the National Boccia Training Squad, won an individual bronze medal at the Canadian Boccia Championships, and a pairs gold at the 2015 BISFed Boccia Americas Team and Pairs Championships.
Ciobanu’s rise continued as he earned a ticket to compete in the pairs event at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. “I knew there was a probability that I would be selected for Rio because I was ranked second in Canada, but I didn’t have high expectations because I had only just made my national team debut.”
“Rio gave me a taste of what it would be like to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. I had only just started in the sport so I didn’t even have enough time to qualify for the Individual event at that time.”
Since Rio, Ciobanu has made the National Boccia Training Squad every year, but still feels he has much to learn.
“Iulian is in the process of finding and defining his own playing style,” said Ciobanu’s BC4 coach, César Nicolai. He has been making a name for himself, as one of the cunning playmakers on the Boccia Canada squad.
Ciobanu felt his psychology degree gave him an advantage in understanding the mental game that is so integral to boccia. “There’s a lot of strategy in the sport. You have to analyze the game properly and make quick decisions because you only have four minutes per end to decide your ball placements.”
He is known for taking risks and using clever shots to beat his opponents including an assortment of ricochets, lobs, pushes, roll up and overs, and displacements. At the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Ciobanu’s playing style sealed a ticket to the bronze medal match against his Columbian opponent, where he narrowly missed the podium by two points.
Teammate, Alison Levine, one of the top seeds in the Individual event in Lima, acknowledged Ciobanu’s striking performance against her in the quarterfinals.
“He deserved to win. He took a lot of risks in that game and it paid off. Sometimes the risks pay off and sometimes they don’t.”
It was the first Parapan American Games in Ciobanu’s career and sets the stage for a strong performance at the upcoming Tokyo qualifier in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“I’m close and it’s a work in progress. I know that I’m not far from the podium. [Lima] was a good opportunity to prepare for the next competition which is the most important one of the year,” said Ciobanu.
What’s next for Ciobanu and the team?
Canada will be sending a full team to the 2019 Sao Paulo Boccia America Regional Championships on October 1st. The team includes eleven athletes with their performance partners, three coaches, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, and an analyst.
The Championships is a direct qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games and is the most important event of the year for the athletes.
“[Iulian] had success in Lima and I’m confident that Sao Paulo will allow him to continue to develop his strengths,” says Nicolai. “I’m hoping that he will play with confidence in the next competition no matter which opponent he faces. We are now observing more maturity in Iulian’s approach to international competition. Confidence has grown and experience is now kicking in. He knows that on a good day he can beat anyone in the world. Sao Paulo will be a great occasion for him to continue to build his confidence both in individual play and in pairs play. We are looking forward to great performances from Iulian. He’s definitely ready!”
While his introduction to sport was unique, Ciobanu’s quick transition from “playground to podium” is not unlike other athletes on the National Boccia Training Squad. To learn about how you can get involved in boccia visit bocciacanada.ca.