OTTAWA – Brianna Hennessy, best known as one of the country’s top Para canoers, is among 10 players selected to Canada’s first ever women’s wheelchair rugby team competing in the Women’s Cup, running this Thursday to Saturday in Paris.
“This is huge for women in the sport,” said Hennessy, who plays wheelchair rugby in the U.S. league during the winter. “Our dream is to one day have a women’s wheelchair rugby tournament at the Paralympic Games.”
Wheelchair rugby is currently considered mixed gender at the Games. At the Tokyo 2020 Games, Kylie Grimes became the first woman to win gold in wheelchair rugby as a member of the British team. There were four women in all at the Games.
From a Canadian perspective, Erika Schmutz helped the country win bronze at the Beijing 2008 Games, the first woman to reach the Paralympic podium in the sport. Schmutz, 50, is back on the roster for the Paris tournament.
Most recently, Mélanie Labelle was on the court at the 2019 Parapan American Games helping Canada to silver.
Labelle will also be in Paris this week.
“Having a Canadian team is going to create so many opportunities for women to succeed in the sport,” said Hennessy. “We really want to start that movement with more research to study the speed and strength to help women develop their skills.
“Hopefully this will be the start of more international events so the team can get together on a more consistent basis.”
Even before her accident in 2014, Hennessy excelled in many sports. She played AA hockey, was a provincial-level rugby player, and was an amateur boxing champ in Ontario.
It was wheelchair rugby that initially got her back into sport, but in 2020 team sport gatherings stopped due to the pandemic. It was Patrice Dagenais, co-captain of Canada’s wheelchair rugby team, who suggested Hennessy should contact the Ottawa River Canoe Club for a sporting outlet during this time.
One year later, she was on the Canadian Paralympic Team in Para canoe. She placed fifth in the VL2 200-m and eighth in the VL1 200-m. A year later at the world championships she improved to silver and bronze medal performances.
“Wheelchair rugby is a great cross training sport for my Para canoe,” said Hennessy, 38, the lone female import player (each team is allowed one each) in the U.S. Quad Rugby Association. “I really love the differences in the sports, and both really help develop my strength and endurance.”
Hennessy and her teammates start play at the Women’s Cup – which is one step in spearheading a faster growth of women’s wheelchair rugby – on Thursday. For more information on Team Canada at the Women’s Cup, please visit WheelchairRugby.ca.