EDMONTON – The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi have wrapped up, but the Paralympic Games are just getting underway. And while the buzz surrounding the games can sometimes be lost following the Olympics, a couple of local para-athletes want to make sure the games don’t get lost in the shuffle.
“The Paralympics is something that’s very special. I’ll always have memories of, not just winning, but just participating in the games,” said wheelchair basketball player Ross Norton.
Norton was introduced to the sport when he was 15 years old, after a virus damaged his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down.
In his decade-long career, Norton went on to compete for Team Canada at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Paralympic Games.
“I’m a retired athlete now, so the reason I’m out here is to help the next generation of Paralympians train and learn the sport,” he said from the Saville Community Sports Centre Sunday.
“When it comes to the Paralympics, I think they just forget or aren’t educated in the fact that, ‘Wait a minute, there’s still another Olympics going on,'” added para-athlete Brian McPherson, who has the common goal of inspiring future athletes.
The 35-year-old Edmonton man played wheelchair basketball in the 1999 Canada Games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, and also played sledge hockey for Team Canada.
Now, McPherson drives adapted bobsleigh and is making a push to get the sport introduced into the 2018 South Korea Paralympic Games.
“You’re going down a frozen water slide at speeds of 125, 130 kilometres an hour with seconds to make a decision,” McPherson said.
“It’s incredible. It’s crazy. I love it. I couldn’t love a sport more.”
But McPherson wasn’t always this positive about Paralympic sport. In 1995, when he was 17 years old, McPherson was a dedicated baseball player, being scouted for the major leagues. That was, until he was paralyzed in an ATV accident.
“It was my heart and soul growing up as a kid, so it’s a tough thing to realize you’re never going to be able to do a certain sport again,” he said of his baseball career. “The first two years of my disabled life was really rough. I was really feeling sorry for myself, not knowing what to do.”
But McPherson had a friend who wouldn’t give up on him, and continually encouraged him to give wheelchair basketball a try. At first, McPherson says he wanted “nothing to do with it.”
“I was done with sport. And to be totally honest, I didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of other people with disabilities. I wasn’t willing to accept the disability at this point.”
But he finally gave in and decided to give the sport a try. And on the day he showed up to practice, it just so happened to be selection camp for the Canada Games.
“I was a really fast pusher, so the coach asked ‘Would you be willing to play?’ And one thing just led to another,” he said. “And then this bobsledding kind of came into my lap, as well and it’s just been a great ride ever since.”
McPherson now calls his ATV accident the best thing that’s ever happened to him, and says he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for his friend introducing him to wheelchair basketball.
“Once I started playing sports with other people with disabilities, I realized that I’m not the only one out there in the world. And no matter what anybody says in life, there’s always somebody who’s worse off. I have the great opportunity to still be able to move my arms and head and have full upper-body strength. There’s a lot of guys out there that don’t have that choice.”
It’s the passion and drive for the sport that keeps both men focused on raising the profile of para-sports, and helping others who have gone through similar injuries overcome adversity.
“It’s critical to help somebody throughout their injury, it’s really difficult to go through something like that by yourself. This is a great, supportive atmosphere to become a part of,” said Norton. “It’s important that there are people that want to carry on the legacy of the Paralympics.”
“At the end of the day, we’re regular guys and gals. We’re just athletes that play our sport and love our sport,” added McPherson. “The more sport we get involved in and the more sports that guys with disabilities are doing, we’re no longer guys with disabilities; we’re just normal guys. We just love sport. And we’re just trying to make our mark in the sporting life.”
Team Canada has won five medals — two silver and three bronze — in the first two days of the Sochi Paralympic Games. The games run until Sunday, March 16.
With files from Shannon Greer, Global News.
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