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(Winnipeg, MB) There are nine para-athletes competing for Team Alberta at the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg. The Canada Games sport program offers opportunities for para-athletes in Athletics, Sailing and Swimming.
In Athletics, there are two remarkable stories of athletes aiming to use their Canada Games experience to raise awareness to parasport. They hope to educate and encourage others to compete, as well as increase the resources available to para-athletes across Canada.
18-year old Navarra Li Houldin of Calgary has always been an avid athlete. She swam competitively, was on the track team, ran cross-country and was even training for a marathon last fall. Houldin did all this despite constant pain caused by a progressive disorder called Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
Houldin began to lose the ability to use her legs last October and one morning woke up not being able to move. She was later told she would no longer be able to walk and has been using a wheelchair since.
Despite the life-changing event, Houldin was as motivated as ever and begged her Crescent Heights High School track coach to include her – and her wheelchair – on the high school track team. Her perseverance was rewarded and her coach found various opportunities for her to compete in wheelchair racing including the 2017 Canada Summer Games.
“Sports is a very big part of who I am,” Houldin said following a morning training session at the University of Manitoba Stadium. “To me, losing sport would have been terrifying on top of what I had already lost. I couldn’t lose that part of my identity.”
Houldin also doesn’t see parasport as a separate entity: “Parasport, in my opinion, shouldn’t be parasport. It’s just sport. I am an athlete, I am part of Team Alberta. That doesn’t change because of how my body works. If sport is important, parasport is important. Being in a wheelchair doesn’t take away your humanity, it doesn’t take away the athleticism. Being given the opportunity to be in sport has given me more than just fitness and strength; it has given me a person to be again and everybody deserves that opportunity.”
Houlding competed in week 1 of the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg, finishing fourth in the 400m and 1500m wheelchair racing events.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled about having competed here at the Canada Summer Games. It’s been a really challenging year. It has also given me opportunities that I would have never even dreamt of before this. I will also be able to use this as a stepping-stone for my future and as a way to bring para-athletes to the forefront. Showcasing the sport to the world will make it progress.”
Beside her, also racing in a wheelchair, is Hunter Graves. Hunter lives in Raymond, a small Alberta farm town with a population of less than 4,000 tucked away in between Lethbridge and the United States border.
Graves was born with spina bifida. Oldest of six children, all of whom are athletically inclined, participating in soccer and football notably. Graves introduction to sport came thanks to swimming, as his parents insisted on all their children learning to swim as a survival skill. Later on, he took to the track.
“I got introduced to track at elementary school, taking part in the 400m, 800m, and 1500m able-bodied races. I took a lost of last places,” reminisced Graves. “I was the only guy on crutches around the track. My friends were very supportive. Once they were done, they would come behind me and walk with me as I was finishing my races.”
Graves stopped competing in high school, as it got a whole lot more serious. This year, Graves competed in his first serious triathlon, which he loved. “It made me feel more included. I want to show people that because I am in a chair, it doesn’t make me that different. For me, it’s all about adapting. It doesn’t change the fact that I am a human being.”
Graves was introduced to para-athletics by his high school coach, who informed him there was opportunities to race track events.
“I said right away that I would love to be part of the track team and went for it. It gave me an opportunity to represent my school, which meant a lot me.”
Graves ended up winning three gold medals at provincials, which gave him the opportunity to come to Winnipeg.
Faced with the choice of competing in the track or field events, he chose track and wheelchair racing as a way to push himself. “I chose track as I see more opportunities to challenge myself. I am beyond thrilled to be here at the Canada Games.”
Graves finished in the top ten in all three of the events he raced in at the Games.
Week 1 of the Canada Games also featured para-sailing, with Alberta fielding one participant, Wendy Frazier. Week 2 will feature four Alberta athletes competing in para-swimming with Angela Lowther, Amy Lynn Nelson, Hidde Geurts and Alex Sharpe proudly wearing Alberta blue.
TSN/RDS is the official broadcaster of the 2017 Canada Summer Games. Watch the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and select events live on TSN!
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