Mike Whitehead learns ins-and-outs of sports administration

Canadian Paralympic Committee

October 17, 2023

Wheelchair rugby veteran interning with CPC


MONTREAL – Canadian national team wheelchair rugby player Mike Whitehead has competed at five straight Paralympic Games and appears like he could compete at five more. But father time catches up to us all and the Windsor, Ont. native is preparing for his post competitive career.

October is National Disability Employment Month and Whitehead sees the campaign as an opportunity for organizations to see value in all people with disabilities. Whitehead mentions that in Canada one in five people have a disability and many struggle to gain fulfilling employment.

Whitehead, 47, of course is interested in sports and has been coaching for several years as well as playing. In fact, he coached Canada’s wheelchair rugby team at the Toronto Invictus Games and at the 2021 Low-Point Tournament in Switzerland.

But coaches at the national level do more than X’s and O’s. The reality is there is a ton of administrative work involved and that’s an area where the father of two wants to sharpen his skills.

For nearly a year, Whitehead has combined his playing and coaching duties with valuable work as an intern at the Canadian Paralympic Committee in the Performance and Pathways team.

“Interning at CPC and feeling so valued, feeling heard, has motivated me to continue down that path of sport administration,” said Whitehead from Montreal, where the national team is preparing for an international event in Paris this month and the Parapan American Games November 17-26 in Santiago.

“They’ve challenged me and supported me. I learned a lot. I give a lot of credit to the CPC.”

The internship is supported by Pfizer Canada, one of CPC’s Premier Partners.

Pfizer Canada is proud of its partnership with CPC, established over 25 years ago, as it was our first one to focus on inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility,” said Vincent Lamoureux, Director, Global Health and Social Impact, Pfizer. “At Pfizer, one of our values is equity, meaning that every person deserves to be seen, heard, and cared for. This internship with CPC is a tangible way to promote inclusion in the workplace for people who live with a disability.”

Whitehead, in his 23rd year with the national team, says being involved behind the scenes for a major Games was a fountain of discovery.

“Being behind the curtain I didn’t realize what they did at that level and in that scope on a continual basis,” he said. “Learning what they offer to Wheelchair Rugby Canada and all the other teams was really interesting.

“Just understanding what’s involved to prep a team for the Paralympics or for the Parapan Am Games. There’s so much that goes on.”

Rob Frost, CPC’s director of Paralympic performance, says the education went both ways.

“Having Mike join our team has been an exceptional opportunity to learn from an accomplished veteran athlete,” said Frost. “Bringing in his views to our daily work and in support of our Games planning has really helped to advance support and services dedicated to athlete well-being and performance.

‘’Mike is a very valued member of our team who is driven to learn, support the team in any task, ask questions and share insights.”

Whitehead’s highlights since joining CPC in late 2022 includes working with the Canadian Tire JumpStart program, athlete services, and being involved in the CPC’s athlete content and media summit.

‘’Working in different areas has been amazing,” he said. “I was given tasks, and I was trying to nail them and I think some I hit the mark and some definitely needs a little bit of work which is fine. I was being challenged, which was great.”

He admits his playing career has extended longer than expected and he began preparing for his post-competitive career in 2016.

“I’m passionate about coaching,” he said. “I love young athletes and guiding them along. When I got involved with the CPC Athletes’ Council, I started to see how CPC operates and what they offer and that really intrigued me on many levels.”

Injured in a car crash at age 24 in 1999, Whitehead has always credited his community with helping recover. And he recommends people with a disability struggling to find employment need to do the same.

‘’I would say reach out in your direct community,” he said. “We have a lot to offer, and I’ve been pushing guys on our team to get out there and give it a go.

”Let’s not undersell ourselves.”

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