Ottawa

Local athlete gears up for Paralympics

Patrice ‘Pico’ Dagenais, co-captain of Canada's wheelchair rugby team, is preparing to head to Tokyo this week to represent the nation in one of the toughest sports around.

Wheelchair rugby 'intense game,' says Team Canada co-captain Patrice Dagenais

Wheelchair rugby is one of the most popular sports for people who have physical disabilities, likely a result of the rough gameplay, Patrice Dagenais said. The athlete from Embrun, Ont., is about to participate in his third Paralympic Games. (Kevin Bogetti-Smith)

The co-captain of Canada's Paralympic rugby team is preparing to head to Tokyo this week to represent the nation in one of the toughest sports around.

Patrice 'Pico' Dagenais lives in Embrun, located approximately 45 km southeast of Ottawa's downtown core, where he's done much of his training for the games.

"It's been a challenging 14 months," he told CBC Radio's In Town And Out on Saturday. "We actually qualified for the Paralympics in March 2020 ... A few days after, everything got shut down." 

While the team was eventually able to attend training camps together, it was difficult to work from home ahead of his third Paralympic Games, he said.  

Patrice Dagenais was an avid hockey player who started playing wheelchair rugby after a spinal cord injury suffered in a construction accident left him paralyzed from the chest down and in his fingers. (Kevin Bogetti-Smith)

Growing up, Dagenais was an avid hockey player, loving the high intensity and contact-filled game. After a spinal cord injury suffered in a construction accident left him paralyzed from the chest down and in his figners, he needed a new sport to fill that void.

"It was a perfect fit because wheelchair rugby is an intense game," he said.

Athletes use custom wheelchairs, allowing them to make contact with each other. Rugby is one of the most popular sports for people who have physical disabilities, likely a result of the rough gameplay, he said. 

"It's a full contact sport," he added. "There's hits, there's a lot of bangs and a lot of loud noises."

As team co-captain and a Paralympic veteran, he sees keeping other athletes calm and composed part of his responsibility. 

The absence of cheering crowds, including family members who won't be allowed to travel to Japan, won't bother him too much: When Dagenais is on the court, he typically pushes out the outside noise to focus on the game. 

"It might not be as loud as it usually is," he said. "But the goal remains the same."

Going into the 2021 games, the Canadian team is ranked fifth in the world. Although their upcoming matches will be against top-level athletes, Dagenais said he wants to beat the Americans, their long-time rivals, the most.

Patrice Dagenais is the co-captain of Team Canada Paralympic Rugby 7:14

Australia, Japan and Great Britain are the other teams to beat, he said. 

The team's had approximately a year to work on their game plan. Now it's about executing those strategies and hoping a few bounces to go their way, he said.

"I'm not going to guarantee anything, but obviously we believe that we can win our games," Dagenais said. 

"I think a great accomplishment for our team would be to finish on the podium and bring back a medal, so that's the goal for sure."

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