Canadian women Para athletes show dreams can come true

Canadian Paralympic Committee

March 08, 2024

International Women’s Day a chance to celebrate the impact of women’s sport

Danielle Ellis

Canadian sitting volleyball team member Danielle Ellis lost her right leg below the knee due to cancer as a newborn. 

The 32-year-old never thought growing up in White Rock, B.C., that she could one day be a high-performance athlete, be on a national team and travel the world representing Canada.  But the world has change for people with a disability and for women in sports.

In women’s sport we’ve seen the soaring popularity of the WNBA, women’s international soccer and most recently the PWHL. Sports fans – men and women, young and old, are discovering the excitement, the athleticism, the sheer drawing power of the women’s games.

And Canadian Para athletes like Ellis, Para canoer Brianna Hennessy and Para swimmer Danielle Dorris are exemplifying the same characteristics as trailblazers for women in Para sport. The impact is resonating loudly in Canada and the movement is equally strong internationally.

At the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Canada fielded a 128-member team with the majority of the athletes women (71). More women than ever before competed at both Tokyo 2020 (45 percent)  and the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing.

‘’I never knew that I could be an athlete at this level,’’ said Ellis, currently preparing for her third Paralympics in Paris 2024. The world number-one Canadians are strong contenders for a first ever Games medal.

‘’I never even dreamed it as a young kid because I never believed that someone with an amputation could get there. 

‘’It’s so huge to be able to see women with all different types of disabilities on center stage and showing how athletic how strong, how empowered they are to do anything that they want to do.’’

When Ellis was young, she was quick to notice that advancing in life was far more difficult for women whether it was sport or business.

‘’As a young woman you’re pushed out of sports and businesses every day and you have to work so much harder to get anywhere. Now you can see athletes like us on TV or online and say like, ‘hey, she did it, I can do it too.’’

Hennessy, who made her Games debut at Tokyo, says Canadian women Para athletes have made it a priority to share their stories.

‘’We have that platform to inspire the next generation,’’ said the Ottawa resident.  ‘’I think that should be at the core of the heart of all of us. What is empowering is to see younger kids looking up to you and that you will be able to help them to build up that courage to maybe put themselves out of their comfort zone too. 

‘’When I’ve done talks at schools, I really try and emphasize that you will come across struggles or obstacles. But it’s a wonderful example when you put your love and passion into something that can unify and strengthen.’’

At 21, Dorris is already a Paralympic Games and world champion and a world record holder. She agrees with Hennessy and Ellis that her performances and those of her compatriots in Canada need to be noticed in the same regard as any other athletes.

‘’I really want to bridge that gap,’’ said the Moncton, N.B., resident. ‘’It’s so exciting to watch. Doesn’t matter if you’re a woman, man, disabled or able bodied. Para sport is cool and it is different from able bodied sport.’’

And of course, in Para sport, every athlete has an exceptional story.

‘’It always seems to pull on heartstrings,’’ said Hennessy.  ‘’There are magnificent stories that can be told. I’m really hoping that for Paris that all the sports will be showcased. Social media is becoming big and there are those little girls seeing people like us, posting and living our best lives with sport or just in our daily lives. 

‘’Being able to have them grow up in a time where they can look up to us see that exposure finally is pretty special.’’

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