MONTREAL – Wheelchair basketball player Cindy Ouellet knew challenging some of Montreal’s well known athletes to play her sport would be an amusing experiment.
“Seeing famous athletes, able-body athletes having a hard time with a little chair and a basketball – it’s always a good time,” she said.
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Habs forward Phillip Danault and Alouette running back Tyrell Sutton joined Ouellet on the court as part of an event in Montreal for Paralympians heading to the upcoming 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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This year, a total of 165 athletes will be participating in 18 sports at the Games.
Experienced Paralympic swimmer, Benoît Huot, is heading to his fifth Games, but believes there’s still some misunderstanding when it comes to Paralympic sports.
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“Paralympics are like the Olympics for athletes with a disability who are training, investing all of their energy and time towards high-performance sports,” said Huot.
“One of our roles and one of our goals as athletes is really trying to increase the awareness, the visibility, and educate Canadians on the differences between Paralympics and the Olympics.”
Fourteen-time Paralympic gold medallist Chantal Petitclerc is returning to the Games this year, but this time as the chef de mission.
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She insists that, although the event has evolved, there is still a long way to go.
“Paralympic athletes still face more challenges to get sponsorship, recognition and that kind of support,” she said.
“It is improving, it is definitely going in the right direction, but maybe a little bit slow for my taste.”
While the athletes have their eyes set on the big prize, they insist their main goal goes way beyond gold.
“The goal is for the public to see the Paralympic gold medal as the same worth as the Olympic gold medal,” said para-swimmer Aurélie Rivard.
“To achieve that, we have to talk about it and let people know what’s going on here.”