Sporting a Love for Sports (Part 1): How it Began
From a young age, I have always had an undying love for sports. My earliest sports memories are of my hometown Toronto Blue Jays in the early 90s as they won the World Series in back-to-back seasons. I am not ashamed to say that I had a Kelly Gruber lunchbox (if you don’t know who Kelly Gruber was, stop here and Google him, it’s ok, we’ll wait).
This early passion for baseball probably came from watching my big brother play growing up. He is 5 ½ years older than me and I looked up to him, wanting to emulate everything he did. I can still distinctly remember when I was 6 years old during the summer of 1994 in the backyard of our semi-detached, suburban Toronto house playing my version of baseball. My parents would throw a wiffle ball and I would stand up from my patio chair and swing for the fences with my plastic bat. Ok, this may not have been the big leagues, but the day that I connected with one solid *crack* of the bat and sent the ball soaring over our neighbor’s fence, it sure felt like I was standing at home plate at the Sky Dome!
As I got a bit older, I wholeheartedly embraced the Canadian way and developed a true love of the best sport in the world: hockey. Anyone who knows about Canada will surely think of our national pastime and unwavering love for this sport. From coast-to-coast, it’s a staple of Canadian culture and for many a way of life. For young children nationwide, that first pair of skates and learning to skate, whether it be early on a Saturday morning at the local rink or on a frozen lake up north at a cottage, it’s seen as almost a rite of passage. This was unfortunately not a reality for me. This didn’t stop me from loving the sport. In fact, it made me love it even more. Despite the Toronto Maple Leafs not having won a Stanley Cup since 1967 (Yeah, I know, it’s a long time, I hear it enough from my dad, but this will be the year… or next year…), they are my team and I continue to bleed the blue & white.
The Raptors came to town in 1995 when Toronto was awarded one of the first two NBA franchises outside of the United States. With this announcement, the city was abuzz with excitement and everyone had basketball fever, there was simply no escaping it. I recall “needing” to get the posters of Doug Christie and Damon Stoudamire from the Scholastic Book Fair at my elementary school in the early years. Vince Carter, otherwise known as Vinsanity, made his debut in Toronto and suffice to say, the city and country was forever changed. It was no longer just a hockey and baseball town, basketball now had its grasp on the people of Toronto. The love for the sport grew for me with each passing year, and now even more so after watching 25 years of building culminate with being the 2019 NBA Champions! Being part of the Raptors community the whole way, watching with bated breath as Kawhi’s buzzer-beater shot bounced 1, 2, 3… 4 times in Game 7 of Round 2 to head to the Eastern Conference Finals, was a total thrill! (editor’s note: For 76ers fans, this was not a thrill)
All of this passion and love for sports made my desire to compete and be “normal” ever stronger. As my disability progressed and muscles began weakening, I found myself more and more isolated from my friends at school. During recess I would find myself alone on the pavement while my buddies were off playing soccer, tag, or who knows what else out on grass (I don’t know, I wasn’t there!). At the time, I used a modified tricycle to get around, which despite my best effort, was certainly not made for the bumpy schoolyard grass. Near the end of grade 3, my desire to be with my friends outmatched my denial that I needed greater mobility assistance.
My parents and I sat down one night in the spring of 1997 and I, at the age of 8, admitted that I needed to find a better way to be with my friends. What I didn’t know that night was that that conversation would inevitably change my life forever and impact me in ways I never thought imaginable. A short time later I got a loaner power wheelchair and all of a sudden, my world became a whole lot bigger. I would get to venture beyond the confines of the pavement at recess and go to the mysterious and bumpy grass. I would finally get my chance to play a sport, just like my favorite sports heroes and my big brother. I would get my chance to be “normal”. The ticket to this sense of normalcy was really quite simple: a power wheelchair and a newfound passion for the sport of power hockey. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to admit things aren’t the way they used to be anymore and you need help. All of us with neuromuscular diseases have had to face that reality at some point. But once we get past that hurdle, we can work toward finding the best way forward and embrace the change. At the end of the day, change is coming whether we accept it or not. However, we have the option to choose positivity and adapt to what our bodies require of us.
Look out for Part 2 where I explore my power hockey experiences and discover a sporting world I never knew existed!