Over the weekend, Ottawans showed that Olympic fever was alive and well in the capital as thousands of people came out to witness the torch’s arrival in Ottawa and at Parliament Hill.
With all the excitement over the Olympics, Benoit St-Amand is glad to see that there’s growing interest in Paralympic Games as well.
Compared to its popularity 20 years ago, the Paralympics have made huge strides, said the sledge hockey goalie for Team Canada.
He was happy to see his teammate, captain Jean Labonte, carry the torch when it came through Gatineau Friday.
“It’s great to see Paralympic athletes carry the torch,” said St-Amand, 31. “It’s a sign that the Paralympic movement is getting stronger and stronger. The people in VANOC are doing a good job to raise the standards of the Paralympics. They’ve been working really hard to make it the best Paralympic experience ever.”
St-Amand, who began playing hockey when he was three, was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right leg at age 15. At 17, he had his right leg amputated above the knee and shortly after, saw athletes playing sledge hockey on television.
He began playing in 2002 and joined Team Canada in 2004, moving to the position of goaltender in his fifth season.
The team won a gold medal in St-Amand’s first Paralympic Games in Torino in 2006.
“It was the highlight of my hockey career,” he said.
Following a training camp in Saskatoon in the new year, St-Amand will learn whether he’s going to Vancouver for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. Held from March 12 to 21, the games will see 55 Canadian Paralympic athletes compete in para-alpine skiing, para-nordic skiing (cross-country skiing and biathlon), sledge hockey and wheelchair curling.
The Paralympic Games can teach Canadians about courage, perseverance and determination, said St-Amand.
“A lot of people think they’re not going to be as fun to watch, but I think a lot of people will be amazed at what we can do,” he said. “It shows that if you have an obstacle, you can crumble, or you can go through it. And if you go through it, anything is possible.”