Trevor Hirschfield drives Canada's wheelchair rugby team
Vancouver star one of game’s best defenders, hardest hitters
The game plan was for Trevor Hirschfield and his friends to enjoy the day outdoors.
They were in a van on Vancouver Island driving up a logging road, when a car advanced from the other direction. Hirschfield, being the solid citizen he is, pulled his vehicle over to the side to let the oncoming car pass.
But the shoulder was soft. The next thing Hirschfield and his friends knew they were sliding down an embankment and there was nothing they could do. The van slammed into a tree on the driver's side.
"One of those wrong places, wrong time," Hirschfield recalled.
"I knew something was wrong right away. Thankfully, nobody else in the vehicle was hurt. They were able to get some help and get me transported to the hospital."
Hirschfield was 16-years-old. He had broken his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae and had been paralyzed below his neck. He spent the next six months at the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in recovery. This was not an easy time for the future captain of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team.
He thanks his lucky stars for his mother. With Hirschfield's father back on Vancouver Island working, and his sister going to school, it fell on his mother to keep his spirits up and to make sure he didn't become lazy with his rehab work.
"I always refer to my mom as the hard ass in the family," Hirschfield said. "She's famous for saying, 'never say I can't and always find a way to get things done.' She really stuck by. She was there every day as I was going through rehab. She was there to help me, but she was there to make sure I was getting things done on my own.
"She was the reason I was able to get through things. There was no time to sit there and feel sorry for myself. You have to get things done."
But how does a teenager get things done when something like this happens?
"I was 16 at the time," he said. "When you're 16, you don't have a whole lot in your life going on except school, sports and girls. I didn't have too much to worry about other than myself.
"I wouldn't say there was a super-low point. I woke up some days asking, 'why me? Why?' But you can't sit there and dwell on that. It's the way things are and you had to move on from there."
Sport always has played an important role in the Hirschfield family. Before his injury, the weekends were a blur with one parent taking one child to a game in one direction and the other parent with other child headed the opposite way. Hirschfield played hockey, basketball and football.
Now in a wheelchair, Hirschfield turned to sport again. Duncan Campbell was the key man in this development. The man who helped invent wheelchair rugby in 1976 kept picking up the phone to call Hirschfield and urged him to give wheelchair sports a try.
At first, Hirschfield wasn't interested. But his father convinced Hirschfield that Campbell was on to something. So he finally relented and attended a Have a Go Day in Victoria in 2001.
"I wasn't too sure about disabled sports. I played a lot of sports before my accident. But being around a team was something that I missed," the 32-year-old Hirschfield recalled. "My dad knew how much I loved sports, so he made sure I went.
"Duncan Campbell is the reason why I'm playing. When I went to rehab he was the guy who kept calling. I wasn't ready to try the sport. He said, 'you have to try the sport.' So I tried it, hit somebody and instantly fell in love with the sport."
He also tried sledge hockey, but because he has limited movement in his fingers rugby turned out to be the sport for him. He has excelled and now is known not only as a leader of men on the Canadian team, but one of the game's best defenders and hardest hitters, as well as one of the top low-point players in the game.
In four-on-four wheelchair rugby, players are classified according to their function level and assigned a point value from a lowest function level of 0.5 to the highest at 3.5. The four players on the floor for a team cannot surpass a point total of 8.0. Hirschfield is a 1.0.
Fifteen years after that initial introduction in Victoria to wheelchair rugby, Hirschfield has been to two Paralympic Games, winning a bronze medal in Beijing in 2008 and silver four years later in London.
He hopes his Canadian team can continue its ascension and take the next step to gold in Rio. If the golden performance at the Parapan Games in Toronto last summer were any indication, and again another elite-level tournament in London last fall, Hirschfield and Canada are ready.
"Last summer was amazing, but it's only a stepping stone to Rio," said Hirschfield, who shares his success with his wife Lisa and family, particularly his father who is the national team's equipment manager.
"It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of support from my family and wife. There is countless travel and sometimes you're not there and you miss things. To be able to win that gold medal on home soil in front of friends and family…it was amazing. It couldn't have gone any better. There are not many words that can describe it. I do know I had a hell of a smile on my face.
"We enjoyed it, but we moved on from there."
Canada went on to win the BT Wheelchair Rugby Challenge with a 54-50 win over its bitter rivals from United States in the final in London last fall, and now the Canadians ranked No. 1 in the world.
"Now the target is on our back for Rio," Hirschfield said. "We have to make sure we stay hungry because we know the rest of the world is coming for us. If we want to come out of Rio with that gold medal around our necks, we know it's important for us to lean on each other and keep pushing each other to do our best.
"It was a long time coming. I started playing on the national team in 2004 and went to my first world championship in 2006. It was the first taste I've had of being the best in the world and I'm not ready to give it up yet."