Zak Madell transitions from young prodigy to veteran leader

Canadian Paralympic Committee

August 19, 2021

Unusual disease didn’t deter wheelchair rugby star’s competitive fire

Madell action

Back at the 2012 Paralympic Games, an 18-year-old Zak Madell burst onto the international stage in wheelchair rugby helping Canada to win the silver medal. Those Games remain imprinted in Madell’s memory.

‘’Some of my best memories to this day are from the London Games,’’ said the now 27-year-old scoring machine. ‘’I was this 18-year-old kid on this team of grown men who had all just taken me under their wing and showed me the game. They made sure I was learning as much as I could quickly so I could get to that level.

‘’It was truly a spectacular experience.’’

Madell was an active child, playing in multiple sports, however at age 10 he was struck with an unusual disease. He contracted a staph infection, and his body went into shock. Doctors were forced to do amputations on his fingers and legs.

‘’To this day doctors still are not sure how it got into my system,’’ Madell said. ‘’I was a super healthy kid up to that point.’’
He spent close to two years in hospital to recover then began the process of finding some sports to rebuild his strength and fitness. The first sport he tried was Para ice hockey but it was difficult especially with the sticks being duct-taped to his hands.

He also played wheelchair basketball before he was introduced to wheelchair rugby – a perfect fit. 

After London 2012 he was the MVP at the 2014 world championships and helped Canada to gold at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto. He was named Canada’s flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony. 

After a fourth-place finish at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, he took a high-performance break from wheelchair rugby and obtained his diploma in architectural technology at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Back on court at the 2019 Parapan American Games, Madell was the tournament’s leading scorer averaging 17.8 points per game as Canada won the silver medal.

Seven years since his London breakout, Madell’s still scoring at a torrid pace but he feels his role has expanded on the team. Now players are looking up to him.

‘’I think I’ll take on a bit more of leadership role with the new and younger players on the team,’’ he said. ‘’I’m going to try and lead by example. I’m not the most vocal person when I’m on the bench or the court.”

Madell’s skills and scoring prowess certainly speak louder than words.

For more stories about Canada’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympians, visit

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