MONTREAL - Phillip Danault put himself in a Paralympian’s shoes on Tuesday morning.
While there are still 134 days remaining before the Paralympic Games open in Rio, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and its Chef de Mission Chantal Petitclerc joined some future Paralympic hopefuls to help kick off 33rd Défi sportif AlterGo on Tuesday. The annual event is an international event that assembles athletes from the elite and newcomers, with all types of disabilities.
The Canadiens 23-year-old rookie foward joined in on the festivities in support of his friend -and Paralympic wheelchair basketball hopeful – Cindy Ouellet, who was an instrumental part of the Canadian gold medal-winning team at the World Championships in 2014 and the silver medal-winning team at the Parapan Am Games last year.
“Today was special, I signed lots of autographs and I had the opportunity to speak to some incredibly inspiring young people today,” expressed Danault, who took full advantage of an opportunity to help encourage young disabled athletes to participate in the annual sports competition that unites roughly 5,000 competitors from April 25-May1. “I have a lot of respect for these athletes. They went through trails that many of us have never experienced. I’m very happy to be here to help give my support.
As a fierce competitor both on and off the ice, the Canadiens No. 24 then turned his sights to ensuring that his friend Cindy – who he met through his wife Marie-Pierre - didn’t win bragging rights in Tuesday’s friendly match of wheelchair basketball. A game which saw Paralympic athletes and invited athletes, as well as a few members of the media attending the event, shoot some hoops.
Though he swished a handful of hook-shots in Tuesday’s friendly, Danault was quick to point out how a game of wheelchair basketball is a full workout even for a professional hockey player.
"It was my first time [playing wheelchair basketball] and it was quite different. As a hockey player my personal strength has always come from my legs and you do not have the right to use your legs at all, you can only use your arms. It can be difficult trying to just swing yourself around. You have to use your hands, and you have to be able to respond quickly. It is also hard to play with the ball when you move, too. On top of that, you must rely on muscles you're not used to. I have to admit that it got the sweat going pretty good on my back."
If Danault was critical of his performance on Tuesday, his close friend – and trusted expert in the matter – Cindy saw otherwise.
“Today was nice. It's fun to have this opportunity to get together and play a friendly game. I thought he actually had a pretty good shot!” noted Ouellet, who participated in the Paralympic Games in 2008 and 2012, but swore she shared none of that expert knowledge with her close friend especially with the 2016 Paralympic Games fast approaching. "I look forward. There is still much work to be done. We still have all summer to train with the Canadian team to prepare for the games and the preparatory tournament. We just have to look forward.”
Danault for one isn’t worried about Ouellet’s chances.
"It was a little embarrassing to play against her. Cindy is certainly way more talented than everyone else here. She moves so fast with her chair,” commented Danault following the game. “I have a lot of respect for her. I know she’s had to go through a lot and I’m very proud of her.”
Elise Robillard is a writer for Canadiens.com. Translated by Jared Ostroff
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