Puisand Lai strives for excellence on and off the court

Canadian Paralympic Committee

July 05, 2024

Now the focus is on Paris 2024

OTTAWA – When life threw her a curve ball, Puisand Lai hit a home run.

The 23-year-old made the women’s national wheelchair basketball team back in 2018 at age 17 and has been a valuable member ever since. Off the court, she’ll be going into her final year in mechanical engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton after the 2024 Paralympic Games.

Take that transverse myelitis.

Lai was diagnosed with the condition at age six, a rare neurological issue that causes the spinal cord to be inflamed. It happened out of the blue and she has lost her ability to use her lower body ever since.

Her twin sister was not affected by the condition and is also leading a successful life in e-commerce.

Lai never lost her enthusiasm for being active. By nine she was playing Para ice hockey and also tried wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair racing, adaptive sailing and many others.

She was good at everything, a natural.

At one point in wheelchair tennis she was ranked No. 7 in the world for girls. In 2017, she was a Team Canada junior team member for the World Team Cup.

‘’When I was growing up, my mom wanted me to try so many different sports,” the Toronto resident recalled last week at the national team’s camp in Ottawa.

‘’I think it’s really good that I got to try out some different sports and it’s good for the development of a young athlete.’’

But decisions needed to be made.

‘’To compete at higher levels, I had to focus all my energy into one sport. It was a really tough decision at the time, but I chose basketball because I liked the team aspect. I have so many people to look up to and so many people to learn from. At that age, I found that.’’

Even though she’s only 23 and still the second youngest player on the national team, Lai is a player many look up to now.

‘’Puisand is just one of those players that works really hard,’’ said Canada’s assistant coach Dylan Carter. ‘’Every time you see her, she gets better and better and is adding more things to her game.

‘’She’s young, has a ton of experience, and is still improving.”

In her wheelchair basketball career, Lai has competed at two world championships, the 2020 Paralympic Games, two Parapan Ams and the U25 women’s worlds.

‘’At the U25, that was the first time I kind of had a leadership role,” she said. ‘’Just having that experience makes me feel more confident in my role here, because I can start trying to use my voice a little more and kind of be a leader on this team.

‘’It’s something I’ve been working on. I’m a shy person in general. So being with this team has made me confident.  I’m learning a lot and using my knowledge to voice my thoughts about the team.’’

Since last September, Lai has also been a member of the Rhine River Rhinos, based in Wiesbaden in the German Pro League, in which teams are mixed.

‘’That was just a whole new experience for me,’’ said Lai, whose teammates in Germany include Team Canada member Arinn Young. “There’s different styles of play, it’s more physical along with a busy travel and training schedule.”

But now, the focus is all on Team Canada and its quest to get on the podium at the 2024 Paralympic Games.

“I believe that every single one of us is really, really talented. We have the foundation to be a really great team.”

The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games will begin with the Opening Ceremony on August 28 and continue through September 8, with coverage of the Games on CBC and CBC Sports and Radio-Canada.

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