Rugby’s brutally tough theatrics may make it an entertaining game to watch. But if you want edge-of-your-chair drama, check out wheel chair rugby.
The game is so wildly exciting that a hit documentary was made about it, appropriately called Murderball. “There’s just something satisfying about going out and knocking people out of their wheelchairs,” Canada’s Parapan Am rugby team member Zak Madell told the Toronto Star’s Kerry Gillespie, describing the sport invented in Winnipeg that breaks down preconceived notions about disabilities. “For me, I just try to go out and have fun.”
Madell is one of 216 Canadian athletes participating in the Parapan Am Games that began Friday night with 7 p.m. opening ceremonies at York University’s new athletic stadium.
And as Madell’s comments suggest: fans should expect feats of athleticism every bit as amazing in these games as the Pan Am Games.
The 2015 Parapan games, which run to Aug. 15, are the largest ever held, with more than 1,600 para-athletes from 28 counties competing in 15 events including archery, athletics, boccia, cycling (track and road) five-a-side football, seven-a-side football, goalball, judo, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.
Canada’s contingent is 60 per larger than the 133 competitors at the last Parapan games. Organizers expect that to translate into more gold medals. Indeed, Canada’s goal is to finish in the top three in total medals, up from its fifth-place finish in 2011.
Here a few athletes to watch:
• Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies, Marco Dispaltro of St-Jerome, Que., holds the No. 1 world ranking in his classification in boccia.
• Wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos of Montreal. Lakatos won three Paralympic silver medals in London in 2012. The superbly adaptable Lakatos successfully qualified for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens despite switching from wheelchair basketball to wheelchair racing just eight months earlier.
• Michelle Stilwell had been a member of the wheelchair basketball team that won gold at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney. But because of complications to her spinal cord injury she, too, switched sports after Sydney taking up wheelchair racing. At the Beijing 2008 Paralympics she won the 100 and 200-metre races. Four years later she collected gold and silver at the London Paralympics.
• Swimmer Benoit Huot, has won 19 Paralympic medals at four games including a gold, silver and bronze at the London 2012 Paralympic games in the 200-metre individual medley, the S10 400-metre freestyle and the S10 100-metre backstroke.
The fun isn’t just about the games. The nightly Panamania, so successful during the Pan Ams, continues with free concerts in Nathan Phillips Square. Watch for The Roots, Jann Arden and A Tribe Called Red, among other big names. Meanwhile the arts and culture festival surrounding the Parapan portion of the games includes performances on themes of disability such as PUSH! Real Athletes. Real Stories. Real Theatre, the history of Paraplympic sport through the eyes of six athletes.
Toronto proved itself to be an incredible host city for the Pan Am games. It should do no less for these amazing athletes competing for gold at the Parapan Am Games.
There are still 150,000 tickets available. Let’s make these games a sellout.