Paralympian Search participants find joy in sport

Canadian Paralympic Committee

May 27, 2019

“I’m really excited to get better at something, and it’s something that I can work at every day"


HALIFAX – Both Erin Saari and Cleon Gray were very active individuals before acquiring their spinal cord injuries within the past few years.   

Saari, 35, played sports like soccer, volleyball, and tennis while Gray, 29, was a long-time baseball and football player. 

At Paralympian Search, held Saturday at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, they discovered the many ways they can still be athletes. 

“I didn’t know I was coming to an event where I could see all the different sports,” said Gray, who was involved in a motorcycle accident a couple years ago and says he is now trying to adapt his athleticism. “I was not expecting that, but I had fun, it was a blast.”

He hopes to try more track and field and skiing in the future. 

Sixteen participants tested out their skills via obstacle course-type challenges at Paralympian Search, where they were also able to try several sports like wheelchair tennis, sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, boccia, and others.   

Saari, who acquired her injury in a diving accident, says sports for her are about the ‘happy factor’ as it makes her feel good. Trying out a sport chair for the first time, she discovered she could be much more agile and move around faster than she thought, ultimately surprising herself “with the abilities I didn’t know I had.”

She entered the day thinking she wouldn’t be interested in tennis, a sport she previously enjoyed. 

“I was basing it off what I figured I wouldn’t be able to do, which probably wasn’t the right thing. And I really enjoyed the tennis actually. I mean I’m not going to the top, but for fun, it would be great to do, and it would be just a new learning experience.”

And that’s what it’s about at the end of the day for her. 

“There’s not a whole lot of talk about the recreational sports in Para, which I think should definitely be more talked about because that’s what’s important. Making it big is nice and that’s a great goal, but having something to do on a weeknight and having fun and meeting people, that’s where it’s at.”

Also fairly new to Para sport was Brittany Grandy, but because she wasn’t aware of the possibilities until last year when she came across the Paralympic Games on TV. She reached out to an organization in her home province of Newfoundland and has since tried skiing and wheelchair racing. 

The 23-year-old’s right hip was removed due to cancer after she was diagnosed at age 11. Now seven years cancer-free, she didn’t know exactly what she was getting into when she travelled to Nova Scotia to attend Paralympian Search but knew she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try new sports. 

“I loved the inclusiveness and the environment, everyone was so great,” said Grandy, who now also wants to try rowing. “As someone with a disability, when you’re put in a situation where there’s a lot of able-bodied people you can feel a bit left out, but it was really great to be totally yourself. 

“I’ve never been in a situation like that, where you can completely be on the same playing field as everybody else, which is amazing.” 

A marketing student, she will be working with Parasport NL this summer to help more people with disabilities become active and try new sports. And at the same time, she’ll be training to improve her own skills and hopefully one day become competitive. 

“I was always really active prior to getting cancer, so that roughly 10-year gap of not having anything was pretty hard. So it’s been great just for mental health, for being physically active, and it also gets you working towards something. 

“I’m really excited to get better at something, and it’s something that I can work at every day. It’s not just working out to work out anymore, I want to be better.” 

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