At her first multi-sport tournament, I followed Erica Gavel, 24, on game day as her team takes on Brazil.
6:51 a.m. ET
On our way to breakfast, Erica is in a good mood. She reminds me I picked the only early morning of the week to follow her around.
7:00 a.m. ET
Meals are often a team thing; the women follow the same schedule as most team’s do.
Erica made the roster officially in 2014. She played able-body basketball “stand up,” as they call it, for her university in Saskatchewan in 2012.
After a series of knee injuries and subsequent surgeries, she had to give up the game she loved. No longer able to play any sports or even stand for a long period, wheelchair basketball gave her a chance to reconnect with the game.
8:15 a.m. ET
Time to leave the Athlete's Village and head to the Ryerson centre for practice. Helping out with equipment is part of being on the team.
“It’s great being at the Parapan Ams, there are lot’s of volunteers to help with the heavy lifting,” says Erica, who is grateful for the support.
9:02 a.m. ET
Head coach Bill Johnson leads the warmup session. It’s still early and the women are calmly chatting and laughing as they routinely stretch their green bands.
Soon the energy will rise and the soft chatter will evaporate to be replaced by screams and chairs hitting each other.
9:38 a.m. ET
They play a transition game, Erica explains:
“We play offence in our usual way but we play like the Brazilians in defence”.
To prepare for a game, they watch video of their future opponents, in this case Brazil. They analyse their style of playing and imitate it during practice.
10:07 a.m. ET
Erica is one of three players on the team with a disability classification of 4.5.
At the height of the classification system, Erica has more functionality than a player with a lower number. In wheelchair basketball, a maximum of 14 points is allowed on the court at all times.
11:41 a.m. ET
Back at the Athlete’s Village, as we stop at the welcome centre to pick up my accreditation allowing me to enter, Erica makes friends with the volunteers.
A picture is in order as the volunteers are big fans!
12:56 p.m. ET
In the Athlete’s Village, athletes roam the plaza, a little coffee shop offers free ice coffees, snacks and smoothies.
It’s a great place to take a break and respond to emails.
“My dad want’s to know what time the game is at tonight [Tuesday]," Erica informs me.
Her parents are watching from home, in Prince Albert, Sask.
2:15 p.m. ET
Getting back on the bus. The game starts at 4:15 p.m. ET.
3:35 p.m. ET
Erica explain’s her pre-game routine. She tells me some of her teammates prefer the solitude of their music but that’s not her style.
“I’m lucky to have my best friend on the team, Maude Jacques. Once we’re at the venue, before a game, we like to hang out, talk and laugh. That’s how we reduce anxiety before playing.”
3:16 p.m. ET
Nobody can enter the locker room but the players and staff. They meet before each game to go over the plan. Coach Johnson reminds the girls who they’ll be facing and which players are the biggest threats.
“We have a ranking system [for threats], this gives us direction to know who we need to block and put pressure on.” Erica tells me.
3:53 p.m. ET
Erica begins her warmup. Players are shooting at the net from every direction. When paying close attention, I realise most of them are wearing head phones.
“I have a playlist of songs that really get me excited to play, it helps me focus."
Like sharing a secret, Erica tells me she likes Celebrate by Destra.
4:12 p.m. ET
Waiting to be called back on the court, the team lines up.
5:12 p.m. ET
Throughout the game, the women on the bench are still very much involved, I hear them chanting “de-fence!” and words of encouragement during the whole game.
“We have committed to three causes this year,” says coach Johnson. “Embrace challenge, keep loving the game and stay a family.
The athletes decided that being engaged from the bench and doing what they can, even when they are not playing, to help their teammates on the court, is part of being a family.”
5:20 p.m. ET
Own the Podium’s representative Jean-Philippe Lavoie is at every practice and game during the Parapan Ams.
He's taking notes and building knowledge of the game.
“We are very lucky,” says head coach Johnson “Own the Podium is very invested in our program, it’s been helpful.”
On its website, Own the Podium is described as a not-for-profit organization, prioritizes and determines investment strategies to national sport organizations in an effort to deliver more Olympic and Paralympic medals for Canada.
5:54 p.m. ET
She shoots and she scores!
Canada won the battle against Brazil 82-51 on the night.
6:32 p.m. ET
Erica is all smiles as she leaves the court through the media mix zone. Her first experience playing in front of a big crowd, let alone a Canadian one, is special to her.
“It was so amazing, I’ve never played in anything close to that [the ambiance and crowd] and it was such a rush. I’m so excited right now.”
She tells me while still out of breath from the last minute of the game.
6:37 p.m. ET
Everyone stays to watch the Canadian men’s team up against Argentina. The men’s wheelchair basketball team has to win in order to make it the gold-medal game in this tournament if they want to qualify for the Paralympics in Rio next summer.
The women's team already have their ticket to Rio.
For Erica, the Parapan Am experience is priceless; nothing prepares you better for the Paralympics.
“No other tournament has the multi-sport aspect, the security aspect, wearing your accreditation everywhere and eating in a giant food hall with other athletes from other countries. It’s fantastic to prepare us,” said Johnson, when asked about the experience of the Parapan Ams Games.
7:20 p.m. ET
We escape the game and Erica is starving.
She tells me the best place to get food is just next door...at Loblaws.
She doesn’t have that in Saskatchewan.
8:02 p.m. ET
The women watch an exciting game between the Canadian men and Argentina.
It was a back and forth affair.
8:30 p.m. ET
Congratulation’s are in order. Canada wins 68-62 against Argentina.
8:37 p.m. ET
On our way to the buses, spectators congratulate the Canadian women as they pass by.
9:00 p.m. ET
The night is sweet and victory is even sweeter.
The celebrations are going to have to wait until the job is done. As the women made it into the gold-medal game, they have met their match.
Who are your biggest rivals? I asked Erica.
“The Americans, of course," she says with a sparkle in her eye and a big smile.
She knew then they would be facing each other for gold.
The Canadians fell short of their goal, losing 80-72 to the Americans.
Although Erica reminded me that in the end, “it’s just a game.”
I knew better than to believe her. Like any competitive athlete, she was thinking of nothing else but gold.