A southern Alberta product with ties to Lethbridge has made her Paralympic debut after starting the sport just two years ago.
Payden Vair, who was 19 years old when she lost her right foot in a lawnmower accident in 2018, formerly played for the Lethbridge College Kodiaks’ soccer team.
She is now representing Team Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in sitting volleyball.
“She’s always been active in sports,” Payden’s father Rick Olsen said.
“When the opportunity (came up), she kind of jumped at the chance and it was pretty exciting.”
Payden’s parents watched the team play its first match in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Friday morning. They lost to Brazil 17-15, with Brazil taking the game in five sets after an intense 44-minute set-four win from Canada.
“When they won the first match, we were just so excited because Brazil is one of the higher level (teams) — they’re ranked higher than we are,” Payden’s mother Kris Olsen explained.
“It was a tough loss, but (they) played (with) their hearts and that’s all that matters.”
A celebration was held by the Lethbridge Sport Council at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge on Friday to celebrate Vair and other Paralympic athletes with ties to southern Alberta.
“Lethbridge city council is thrilled to cheer on our local connections,” said Mayor Chris Spearman.
“Best of luck to all our athletes.”
Lethbridge City Hall will be lit up in purple lights Friday night to recognize the WeThe15 movement, which aims to end discrimination against people with disabilities.
The Olsens said they are feeling very overwhelmed with all the support, and are looking forward to watching Payden and the team play out the rest of their games overseas.
“We really wish we could have been there,” Rick said. “So that’s kind of frustrating, not (being able) to be there. But we’re still excited for her to be there and play for Canada.”
The sitting volleyball team’s next matchup will take place at 11 p.m. MT on Sunday against Italy.
-With files from Global News’ Danica Ferris