Priscilla Gagné has produced a successful and decorated career as Canada’s top Para judoka athlete. And her first foray into the hearts and minds of Canadians was at the 2015 Parapan American Games, held in Toronto.
The wildly successful Games hosted by Canada’s biggest city brought to the forefront not only Canadian Para athletes but also raised awareness about accessibility and improving the lives of people with a disability within such a large metropolis as well as how sport can benefit so many people of all abilities.
The Canadian team was led by chef de mission Elisabeth Walker-Young and assistant chef Stephanie Dixon, both former members of Canada’s national Para swimming team. Walker continues to be heavily involved in Para sport as is Dixon, Canada’s chef de mission at both the 2019 Parapan Am Games in Lima and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
For Gagné, Canada’s flag bearer and a silver medallist in Tokyo, the unique opportunity to have a Games in her home province still stands out in all her vast experiences in the sport.
“All my family drove out to watch,” said Gagné, who grew up in Sarnia, Ont. “My wrestling coach from high school also surprised me by coming to support me with his athletes.”
Gagné would go on to win the silver medal at the Games despite the added pressure. The podium also helped her gain more media attention, a new experience at the time. The chatty athlete was an immediate hit.
“After my victory I stopped in the media zone for quite some time,” she recalls. “After the half hour or so my body cooled down and as I walked away from the media zone to say hi to my family, I realized that I used so much force and effort in my final bout that I could hardly open and close my hand.”
She said the Canadian team was delighted with the hard work that went into delivering what are the most the successful Parapan Ams so far.
“I loved hearing the kids chanting Canada, and cheering for each Canadian athlete,” she said. “I was so proud. The Parapan Ams were so well advertised and attended. There’s nothing that compares to competing in front of a home crowd.”
One of the biggest highlights of the Games was Canada’s dramatic 57-54 victory over USA in the wheelchair rugby final. It was the Canadian team’s first major international championship in 13 years, and it qualified the squad for the 2016 Paralympics.
Canada’s top scorer in the tournament was Zak Madell, who was named flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony.
For Patrice Dagenais, a veteran of three Paralympic Games in wheelchair rugby, the home Games combined with a victory left an everlasting memory.
“We were trailing most of that gold medal game but played very well at the end to get the win,” said Dagenais. “It was an incredibly feeling to wear the gold medals and sing O Canada with the crowd. It is something I’ll never forget.”
Canadian athletes sparkled at the Games placing second in the medal rankings, ahead of USA, with 50 gold, 63 silver and 55 bronze. Brazil was the top nation.
This year, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Pfizer Canada are celebrating 25 years of supporting and promoting the Paralympic Movement together. Throughout 2021, we will look back on special sporting moments and milestones from each year of the partnership.
Click here to read each moment so far.