The season of silence began with a bang for Canada’s summer Para athletes.
That’s because it actually started in January in Milton, Ont., indoors, at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre which hosted the Para Cycling Track World Championships.
Kate O’Brien, prior a contender for the Winter Olympics in bobsledding and a 2016 Olympic team cyclist, was one of the revelations of these championships. In her Para track worlds debut, the 32-year-old Calgarian won the gold medal in the C4 500m time trial in a world record 35.223 seconds.
She also set a world record in the 200m flying start qualifying race, which was not a medal event.
At the worlds, O’Brien also completed an incredible comeback. In 2017, she was in a track accident at the Glenmore Velodrome in Calgary, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. The worlds were her first Para track competition and she certainly announced her presence.
Cranbrook, B.C.’s Tristen Chernove won Canada’s three other medals at the worlds with silver performances in the C2 1km time trial, 15 km scratch race, and omnium.
Chernove, the 2016 Paralympic Games triple medallist, didn’t go easy on himself in the summer.
He chose to take on the BC Epic 1000 in support of the Paralympic Foundation of Canada. That’s a 1,066-kilometre ride through south central British Columbia from Fernie to Merritt mostly along the Trans Canada Trail.
The two-and-a-half-day ride raised over $33,000 towards providing more opportunities for Canadians with a disability to be active in sport. Over $13,000 was donated by supporters across the world, while Canadian Tire Corporation, Pfizer Canada, Old Spice, and Petro-Canada each contributed $5,000.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic halted all sports and postponed the Paralympic Games, two of Canada’s teams were able to secure their tickets to Tokyo at last-chance qualifiers.
First, the Canadian women’s sitting volleyball team earned their Paralympic position for a second straight Games, defeating Ukraine in the final of their qualification tournament, hosted in Halifax. Danielle Ellis was named most outstanding player of the tournament, and later, the IPC’s Allianz Athlete of the Month for February.
Also on home soil was the final wheelchair rugby qualifier for the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Richmond, B.C. played host to seven teams, with just two spots for the Games available. Canada went an undefeated 7-0 to punch its ticket to Tokyo next summer.
In other sports, Canada’s wheelchair racing king, Brent Lakatos, won the London Marathon on October 4 in what he termed as one of the biggest moments of his storied career. Lakatos, a seven-time Paralympic Games medallist, upset the last two Games marathon champions Marcel Hug of Switzerland and David Weir of Britain.
There was big news in wheelchair basketball as Ottawa was recently awarded the 2026 world championships for both men and women. Ottawa 2026 will be the largest team sport event for high-performance athletes with a disability in the world and is expected to attract 20 countries.
With no Paralympic Games or competition taking place this summer, athletes ultimately focused their time on training – but many summer athletes also donated their time to worthy causes this year. Women’s national wheelchair basketball team player Cindy Ouellet, for example, is now a comic strip superhero as an anti-bullying spokesperson for Sport’Aide, a Quebec-based organization.
Wheelchair rugby player Eric Rodrigues Furtado and Para running world champion Nate Riech are hosting podcasts which help inspire and inform their peers, many others have appeared on Team Canada Champion Chats speaking with children and students across the country, Boccia Canada held virtual competitions, and the list goes on making us proud of how Para athletes keep giving back and adapting through these tough times.
In 2020, we also had a chance to reminisce about Canada’s remarkable performances at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Paralympic Games via the Paralympic Super Series Rewind.
Those memories from Sydney, Athens, and Beijing showed what we missed in 2020, but also provided hope that we can experience a new generation of amazing images and stories from Tokyo in 2021.