The Currentwith Anna Maria Tremonti


Janet McLachlan turns bad situation into something good

After a knee injury ended her rugby dreams, Canadian Janet McLachlan turned to wheelchair basketball, where she found a new athletic endeavour to succeed at. Now the 38-year-old is hoping a third trip to the Paralympic Games will result in a gold medal.

Canadian hopes 3rd time will be the charm in Rio

Paralympic wheelchair basketball star Janet McLachlan on how her knee injury occurred and how she found her way back to sports. 1:15

Janet McLachlan wasn't ready to hear the horrible news. She hoped to play for the Canadian women's rugby team in the world championship and felt she was close to attaining that goal.

But a decade ago, she sat in a doctor's office waiting to find out the extent of a knee injury she suffered.

McLachlan was playing in the provincial championships in Edmonton for the local Rockers. Then, in the blink of an eye, she was chasing a kicked ball across the field when a teammate and opponent fell into her left side. Her leg twisted too much inward.

There was the pain from the incident. She knew her knee was a mess, that her ligaments, tendons and cartilage had been severely damaged. But how bad was it? How long would it take to recover? What kind of future did the life-long competitive athlete have in rugby at age 29?

The news wasn't good. McLachlan was told her days on the rugby pitch were over.

"It was very difficult for me to hear the doctor say you can never play rugby or basketball again," McLachlan recalled. "That was a bit of a shock to my system. I had done those things for so long."

It turned out not all was lost. A friend, who had broken a foot, but turned to wheelchair basketball as she recovered, put McLachlan in touch with Danielle Peers, a local wheelchair basketball player and member of the national team.

Suddenly, McLachlan had a new athletic endeavour to succeed at. She rapidly made an impact in her new sport and made the national team in time to play for Canada at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

Canadian mainstay

McLachlan, who was born in North Vancouver, has been a mainstay for Canada ever since. After a fifth-place finish in Beijing, McLachlan led all players in scoring (26 points per game) and rebounding (16.7 per game) at the 2012 London Paralympics.

Canada, however, finished sixth. That result didn't sit well with McLachlan and her teammates. They rebounded to win the 2014 world championship and settle for a silver medal at the Parapan Games in Toronto last summer. Still, the second-place finish was good enough to qualify for the Paralympics in Rio this summer.

In her eight years with the national team, the 38-year-old McLachlan has witnessed the game of woman's wheelchair basketball take off. There is so much more speed, skill and strength involved now. The depth in the women's game also runs deep.

"A team like Australia didn't even qualify for [the] Rio [Paralympics] with the same team that finished with the silver in London," McLachlan reported. "The game so fast and physical and I've seen the gap closing between the best teams and the worst teams."

The Canadians have kept pace and they will be considered one of the gold-medal contenders for Rio after going 4-1 at the Toronto Parapan Games. Their only loss was an 80-72 defeat to the United States in the gold-medal final.

"It was a great experience for all of us to play in a [Parapan] Games at home, having all the support and excitement," McLachlan said. "We put pressure on ourselves and as a team. We have our goals and we know ultimately where we want to be. We have a long road ahead of us.

"We'll get there. We're in a good place, as best we can be right now for Rio."

Good place to succeed

McLachlan always has been in a good place to succeed in sport. She came from an athletic family. Her father was a good enough football player at the University of British Columbia to be drafted into the CFL. He later succeeded on the rugby pitch and played professionally in New Zealand.

McLachlan's mother was an accomplished enough tennis player to win the British Columbia over-65 singles and doubles titles.

Janet McLachlan initially excelled in basketball, winning two national titles with University of Victoria in 1998 and 2000. She graduated with a bachelor of science and then took on another challenge of playing rugby.

"We always just played," said McLachlan, when asked about her passion for sports. "I don't remember being forced to play and there were other sports I enjoyed more than others. But it was part of growing up in our family — you played sports."

Even though she was young, McLachlan remembered watching her father play rugby and thinking that one day she would like to travel down that path.

She always was drawn to team sports rather than individual sports because she didn't like the loneliness of tennis or her temper tantrums that seemed to go along with the individual sport.

After her rugby mishap 10 years ago, she began playing wheelchair basketball as an outlet, but again, the camaraderie of a team sport got her enthused about the possibilities.

Her prowess on the court created an opportunity to attend the University of Alabama and work toward an interior design degree while winning two national championships in 2009 and 2010. She also earned MVP honours.

"I started to play wheelchair basketball just to say sane," she recalled. "I didn't think about where I was going to go with the sport."

Well, how about a third Paralympics?

Talk about turning a bad news situation into something good. And who knows, maybe she'll be golden in Rio.

Broadcast Partners


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.