Women’s team looking for first Paralympic medal since 2004
One of the stars of Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team is looking to achieve something in Tokyo that has eluded her despite a stellar career – winning a Paralympic medal.
Cindy Ouellet, who is 31, grew up idolising some of the Canadian players who came before her.
From 1992 to 2000, Canada reigned supreme in women’s wheelchair basketball becoming the first and only country to win three straight Paralympic gold medals.
But Team Canada has been kept off the podium ever since winning a bronze medal at Athens 2004.
“Canada obviously has been super good at wheelchair basketball in the past. So, it would be nice to make history again and just make Canada proud that we can go up on that podium with that new crew,” Ouellet said.
The team is hoping to improve on its fifth place showing at the Rio 2016 Games after losing in a heartbreaking quarter-final.
Canada's gold medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, guaranteed a spot in Tokyo.
“Our team is really ready this time around. We’ve got some new players. We’ve got some speed, height."
Canada will centralise its entire team for about four months leading up to Tokyo, something Ouellet believes could make the difference.
"It’s the team that’s going to come together with the best cohesion that is probably going to win because all the athletes and teams are really fit so it doesn’t come to physical fitness. It comes down to the mental side of things and team cohesion.”
Ouellet believes there are a handful of countries likely in the running for medals in Tokyo. Current world champions Netherlands, Germany, defending Paralympic champions United States while People's Republic of China and Great Britain are also strong.
And she also believes Canada is in that mix.
Our team is really ready this time around. We’ve got some new players. We’ve got some speed, height.
Wanting to excel
Ouellet feels she hasn’t reached her full potential yet. The versatile athlete competed in cross-country skiing at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics.
“I watch videos. I watch other players in the world that are better than me. I just want to be the best.”
Ouellet, who grew playing all kinds of able-bodied sports, was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was 12. An experience that was tough on her in many ways.
“For me the first time I came back to high school after the illness, I had no hair because I just came out of chemo treatment. I was super skinny, so people were making fun of me. I was on crutches, so people were kicking my crutches. You’re like 'why me again. I already had cancer. Why do I have to be bullied?'.”
She said sport literally saved her life. That’s why she puts everything into it.
Ouellet is also one of the few openly gay Paralympic athletes.
“If we can teach the kids in school at an early age that it’s okay to be gay – to be queer – homosexual – whatever you want to be – you can be – there should be no judgement.”
Ouellet is looking to leave her mark in Tokyo on the basketball court.
“I would love to be that team to win Canada’s first medal in years at the Paralympic Games.”