Midale, Saskatchewan is a typical Prairie town. It’s small, with a population of just over 500. The school runs from Kindergarten to grade 12. Each August for more than 50 years, the community holds its annual rodeo and threshing bee. There’s an arena –home to the Midale Mustangs – and a curling rink that hosts three bonspiels each year.
The rink is where you’d find a young Keely Shaw.
“I lived and breathed hockey,” she says.
And she was good. She played other sports too, like volleyball, badminton and motocross racing, but she really excelled at hockey. She was going to play it at a higher level.
Then she got hurt.
While doing farm chores on horseback – something she had done many times before – Keely’s horse took off in one direction and she fell hard to the ground.
Keely spent days in a coma in a Regina hospital and months in intensive physical rehabilitation programs. Even with consistent therapy, the left side of her body remained partially paralyzed.
During recovery, “I had an identity crisis,” she recalled. “I couldn’t play high-level hockey anymore and I knew that I probably never would since half my body didn’t work quite the way it should.”
The people of Midale were there to offer support. They rallied around her.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone knows everyone,” Keely says of her hometown.
“Most people from Midale have known me since I was a little girl feeding calves in my rubber boots,” she says. “And they were there through my rehab following my accident.”
Keely was determined to get back to sport again, as difficult as it may be – both physically and mentally.
She discovered cycling as a way of commuting in 2013 while she was a student at the University of Saskatchewan. As a gift to herself for finishing her Bachelor’s degree, she bought herself a decent road bike. “Once I stepped on that good bike, it’s like a switch went off. Seeing what your body is capable of, especially when you’ve been in a situation where your body doesn’t really work, was life changing.”
Soon, she was competing. Soon, she was winning. Soon, she found herself racing for Team Canada’s Para cycling program.
The people of Midale are never too far away, even when competitions take Keely across Canada, to Europe or, hopefully, to Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Everyone is incredibly supportive and there is no better feeling than going home for a holiday or for a hometown wedding and having most of the town come up to you and congratulate you on a sporting performance,” Keely says.
“The amount of support I get from my hometown is second to none and I definitely feel that support no matter where I am racing in the world.”
You can help ensure athletes like Keely can access sport in the Prairies.
For Nikola (Nik) Goncin, representing his country on the world stage is something special. As one of Canada’s best wheelchair basketball players, he’s had that chance quite a bit.
But it hasn’t been an easy path for him or his family.
Nik was born in Sarajevo in 1991, just months before the Yugoslavian war broke out. When Nik was nearly three-years-old, his family immigrated to Canada as refugees of war. They settled in Regina and embraced their new lives in Saskatchewan. They learned English, made friends and Nik fell in love with sport – especially basketball.
While in grade 9, Nik broke his leg during a basketball game. An x-ray showed something more severe. It was osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
Nik endured 15 months of chemotherapy and was in and out of hospitals. Doctors amputated his left leg below his knee.
After recovery, the teenager returned to high school at Riffel Collegiate. He thought of ways to stay active. He met Mike Brady, coach of the Regina Paratroopers wheelchair basketball program who encouraged him to play.
He was a natural. It didn’t take long before he caught the attention of the provincial team and started representing his new home province on the basketball court.
Your support is making it possible for Prairie athletes with a disability to participate in sport.
He made his debut with Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championship. In 2013, Nik made both the senior and junior national teams, earning a spot on the Canadian Paralympic wheelchair basketball team for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
His wheelchair basketball career has taken him around the world, from his club team at the University of Illinois (he’s a Master’s of Health Sciences student with dreams of a career in Orthotics and Prosthetics), to a stint in semi-pro in Germany to championships in Colombia, Poland, Japan and beyond.
But no matter where he competes, his thoughts end up back at home.
“This profound feeling of support is something I love about representing Saskatchewan,” he says. “It is a motivator to keep improving and chasing that Paralympic medal.”
By winning the silver medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru this summer, Nik and the men’s wheelchair basketball team secured their spot for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Team Canada will face the top teams from around the world on the sport’s biggest stage, but Nik knows his friends, family and fans in the Prairies will be cheering him on.
“I wholeheartedly feel support from my community back in Saskatchewan,” he says. “Many people take time out of their day or evening, sometimes waking up at ridiculous hours to watch our games. Some I am certain aren’t even fans of basketball yet still take the time to watch.”
“My community has supported my journey from the beginning.”
You can help ensure athletes like Nik can access sport in the Prairies.