Sport has always been an integral part of who I am. Horseback riding, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, yoga – you name it – I’ve given it a try. Today, I play boccia; a precision game founded on strategy, technical skill and mental toughness. As put well by my teammate Marco Dispaltro, boccia is like life-size chess.
In my classification, BC4, the sport is played individually or in pairs. Sides are categorized as either red or blue, using balls denoting that colour. Red takes the first shot, but using a white ball, the jack, to set the course of the game. After throwing the jack ball onto the court, sides take shots aiming to propel the greatest number of balls nearer the jack than their opponent’s closest ball. The individual or pair who has the closest ball to the jack, wins the end. Their points are determined by the number of balls that sit nearer to the white ball than the closest ball of the opposing side. After four ends, the side with the most points, takes the match.
On an elite level, there are few women who play boccia. I remember going to my first international competition last year in Montréal and noticing how few women were in attendance. This is particularly interesting as, due to the nature of the disabilities of players who compete in boccia, the strongest athletes can easily be men or women. On Canada’s team, for instance, I’m known as the resident powerhouse.
Boccia has played an incredible role in my life; I’ve had the opportunity to meet different people from all backgrounds and travel across the world. I’ve learned discipline, teamwork, and the importance of hard work and commitment. This May in Montréal, I’ve felt what it’s like to win gold on home turf at the 2015 BISFed Americas Pairs/Team event at the 32nd edition of Défi Sportif and my performance at the Boccia World Open in Poznan, Poland earned me two silver medals – one in pair play, and one in individual.
At the same time, I’ve experienced the challenges, setbacks and struggles that are part of being an athlete. I spent long days on the court in training and experienced rough days at competition. Early mornings, late nights and sore muscles are all part of the game. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
There are many similarities between Paralympic sports and female involvement in sport. It is by providing access and coverage to these groups that we support the values and skills inherent in athletic participation.
That being said, I think we’re at a turning point where we’re seeing significant shifts forward concerning the continued development of the Paralympic movement – in Canada and abroad – as well as the dialogue surrounding female athleticism. Canada is hosting two important competitions in this Year of Sport, the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup as well as the Toronto 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games which showcase athletes of both genders and a range of abilities. I am also very lucky to be a part of CIBC’s Team NEXT, a program which provides funding and mentorship opportunities to athletes of all levels of ability over a period of three years.
This May, I had the honour of being selected for nomination to compete at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in August – I look forward to representing Canada not as a woman, or a person with a disability, but as an athlete.