Just for the thrill of it….

A shot of the opening ceremonies from the Parapan AM Games in 2011

A shot of the opening ceremonies from the Parapan AM Games in 2011

By Joel Dembe

Fair warning to all the naysayers, protesters and conscientious objectors who feel the 2015 Pan Am Games are waste of money and considerable burden that’s been thrust upon my hometown of Toronto…. This article simply isn’t for you.

Given my a unique perspective on the 2015 Pan/Para Pan Am Games as an athlete who will be competing in the games next summer, (barring a catastrophic injury, of course.), I thought I’d share some of the inside scoop from where I sit.

Joel Dembe in action

Joel Dembe in action

The thrill of it all
First off – If you’ve never had the chance to compete internationally for your country, you will never know the joy, the exhilaration, and of course – the anxiety that comes with all the preparation. Secondly, the 2015 event provides a very special game changing moment for every single member of the Canadian Pan Am and Para Pan contingent. We finally have the chance to compete in our own backyard …in front of our long-suffering families, girlfriends and spouses, loyal friends, sponsors and more national and local media than ever before. Many athletes go through an entire career without having a chance to “play” like this.

Back to Guadalajara
At the last Para Pan Games the- 2011 Guadalajara Para Pan Games, media coverage was scarce both locally and international. Here at home, very few Canadians felt the connection and had the chance to get excited along with us. It was unfortunate because a lot of great things happened. And, the one thing that struck me from those games (besides the horrible, awful food options in the village) was the profound excitement from the locals. To be fair, Guadalajara is not a world-class city compared to Toronto but the Latin American countries really treated the games like they were a HUGE deal. You could feel the level of pride, especially from the Brazilians and Argentinians. As a country we felt it too.

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Hours of prep time
In preparation for the games, wheelchair tennis athletes like myself are busy training hard and competing in events around the world in order to get their “seeding” higher. In fact – I’m writing this article from Cali, Colombia! Being a higher seed in a draw is important to me because it reduces the likelihood of me having to play a higher ranked player in the early rounds: Vital in my quest to finish my athletic career with a medal on home soil! Other athletes in different sports are doing variations of what I’m doing in their own sports to be able to attend and do well.

Our real legacy
Ultimately, the Toronto 2015 Para/Pan Am Games are for the athletes themselves and for members of the Canadian public. The legacy from these games will be the amazing number of great facilities that were built around the GTA. These new facilities will benefit athletes for generations ahead. After having a personal tour of the new CIBC Aquatic Centre in Scarborough, for instance, I was completely blown away the size and scope – and of course the accessibility.

Looking ahead – The games also give Toronto a first-hand look at those that will be representing Canada at the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Jineiro, Brazil.

Show your support
It is my hope that as the games come closer and closer, we as a city, and country, will rally and cheer on the many, many amateur athletes competing on behalf of their countries. And particularly get to know and get excited about the local athletes who’ll be representing Canada.

We don’t do this for the money – we do it because we love competing and believe in giving it all we’ve got. Please believe in us, get behind us, and support our dreams!

Joel Dembe is a Canadian National Wheelchair Champion, Paralympian, and a Canadian Abilities Foundation board member