Search for adventure leads boccia player Iulian Ciobanu to Canada

Canadian Paralympic Committee

September 14, 2023

“Moving here was the greatest project of my life”


When he was a student at Moldova State University in Eastern Europe, Iulian Ciobanu spent 30 minutes every day struggling to conquer five flights of stairs to get to his classes.

Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 12, the young psychology student had no choice at the time if he was to achieve his dreams.

“I walked to school, there was not an accessible transportation system and the building did not have functioning elevators,” recalled Ciobanu, now a world championships medallist in boccia. ‘’I never thought of giving up. I wanted to go to university. I was resilient and accepted those conditions.’’

He graduated with a degree from the school and soon afterwards he and his wife were mapping out plans to eventually move to Canada. Times were tough in his native land and his wife Corina was well informed about the opportunities in Canada from relatives already here.

The couple was patient through the process to move overseas which took almost a full year before landing in Montreal. Once in Montreal, Ciobanu worked as a social worker with a government agency, helping people improve their odds for finding employment. He had gained valuable experience in the field in Moldova.

‘’When I came to Canada, I wanted to have a family and be in a place where we would be free and I would be free to take care of them,’’ he said. ‘’I wanted to be in a country where my handicap would not be a burden.

‘’In Moldova I learned to be resourceful in my work and I knew how to find information when I needed it. When you move to a new country, all you need is the information, then it’s the motivation. It was just do it. And I did it.”

Since moving to Canada, the couple have had two daughters, Alexandra born in 2014 and Eleonora in 2016.

The desire for adventure is ingrained in Ciobanu, who turned 40 this year. Born in Moldova’s capital city Chisinau, Ciobanu was never going to give up on his ambitions despite a debilitating disease.

Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetic diseases that cause progressive weakness and degeneration of skeletal muscles. All forms of MD grow worse over time as muscles progressively degenerate and weaken. Ciobanu is now in a wheelchair.

‘’I was always a curious child,” he recalled. ‘’I was seeking new adventures and it was just in my nature to travel. Something in me was always pushing me away from home. I didn’t hesitate to accept when my wife suggested Canada, even though I didn’t know much about the country.’’

‘’Moving was the greatest project of my life.’’

That resiliency and determination were likely some of the qualities that impressed Canada’s national team head coach Cesar Nicolai when he first met Ciobanu at a Muscular Dystrophy Canada conference in Montreal in 2014.

Among the many activities at that conference was a presentation on boccia. Ciobanu didn’t have a clue what the sport was about. But again, his curiosity got the best of him.

‘’It just got more and more serious as time went on,’’ said Ciobanu, whose first language is Romanian. ‘’Nicolai was very insistent and felt I had a lot of potential and that we needed more BC4 players in Canada. Marco Dispaltro (Paralympic Games medallist) is the one who initiated me to the competitive side and was a mentor both on and off the court.”

Ciobanu made his Paralympic Games debut in 2016 placing sixth in individual play then returned for Tokyo 2020. After a subpar performance at those Games, he and Alison Levine made history with a bronze in BC4 pairs, a first for Canada, at the 2022 world championships.

‘’When I look back, I realize I probably had that athlete potential when I withstood the pain to go up those five flights of stairs.

‘’Those are memories that will never be forgotten.’’

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