One the heels of the 2022 Wintry weather Olympics, Canada’s Paralympic group would possibly rather well surpass the 26 medals it received closing month, with one among Canada’s most powerful medal contenders being in males’s sledge hockey.
The long-time captain of the Canadian Para ice hockey group, Greg Westlake, is suiting up on the Olympics for the 5th time. Westlake made his nationwide group debut at 17 and 20 years later, he’s calling it a profession as he’ll be retiring after those Video games.
Over that span, Westlake has been on 3 international championship-winning groups, and he received gold in 2006, bronze in 2014, and silver in 2018 throughout his earlier 4 Paralympic Wintry weather Video games.
Westlake has already been busy as he used to be selected as flag bearer along Wheelchair roller Ina Forrest. That is the primary time Canadian flag bearer tasks on the Paralympic Video games has been shared honour.
The on-ice motion for Canada begins on March 5, in opposition to its rival the US, on the Beijing Nationwide Indoor Stadium at 12:05 a.m. ET.
Earlier than he competes for the closing time, I stuck up with Westlake to determine his mindset heading into his closing Olympic competitors, being in comparison to Wayne Gretzky (whose Gretzky Estates is one among his sponsors), and the drive to constitute Canada in hockey.
Sportsnet.ca: We are getting shut. What are the sentiments as we get on the subject of event time?
Greg Westlake: It is been corresponding to any such bizarre construct for a Video games with Covid and all that stuff. There may be a part of me that is simply satisfied that they are taking place as a result of two years in the past, we had been speaking about cancellations. We had been speaking about new venues. We had been speaking about the whole thing however competing for gold medals. For an athlete, particularly as a Paralympic athlete or simply an beginner athlete basically, you are simply yearning a possibility. You might be yearning the risk to move put on the colors, put on the maple leaf, and make your nation proud.
SN: Have been you coaching no longer realizing if and when the item you are coaching for goes to occur?
GW: Yeah. And that used to be the harsh phase. I actually associated with numerous the Olympic and Paralympic athletes that had been on the Summer season Video games in Tokyo and actually associated with this Video games as smartly, as a result of there actually used to be some prime occasions and occasional occasions all the way through the educational the place you did not know what used to be taking place. And there used to be numerous cancellations alongside the way in which. Exhibition video games and tournaments that we adore to host and occasions that we adore to throw and produce other international locations too, we were not ready to do. It is been actually arduous.
However we are a qualified observe group at this time. We’ve got had numerous intra-squad video games. We’ve got actually driven ourselves within the purple and white video games, and we have now completed the whole thing we will do. We’ve got left no stone unturned. So, as I mentioned, we are excited to move compete. However yeah, there used to be numerous darkish days there the place you are simply begging your self what gave the impression of for no explanation why, and you are doing max energy and max aerobic, no longer realizing the place it is main. And the ones are difficult workout routines.
SN: You had slightly of a dry run. Are there learnings from observing or chatting with different athletes, the Summer season Video games or the Wintry weather Video games that you’ll practice to going into Beijing and what’s an unparalleled time?
GW: Completely. I am excellent buddies with numerous the ladies who’re at the ladies’s hockey group. Congrats to them, by way of the way in which, for taking house gold. It used to be an ideal sport. All of us stayed up and watched it in combination over right here. And in chatting with them, similar to in vintage Olympic and Paralympic style, the volunteers had been wonderful. They all the time deliver the power 24/7 on the Video games, and they have got completed the whole thing they may be able to do to just be sure you nonetheless really feel like you are getting that have. And on the finish of the day, other folks all the time let you know about gold medals is you’ll be able to have it ceaselessly.
That is what they all the time say about championships and profitable groups. Is it one thing that no one can ever remove from you? And that’s the reason the thrilling phase is we get to move there and check out to succeed in one thing that no one can remove from you. I wish to display my grandkids in the future. I wish to take a gold medal into kids’s rehabilitation hospitals and display them this tangible factor that you’ll succeed in. So, whether or not I do this in entrance of 5 other folks or 500,000, I truthfully do not care.
SN: You talked in regards to the neglected competitions main up for Paralympic athletes, having a platform is so vital to show off the game, but in addition to have vital conversations. Given the pandemic and all that we have now misplaced, what’s the have an effect on of the lack of competitors and this platform for Paralympic athletes and sledge athletes in particular?
GW: It is been moderately damaging. I am fortunate. I’ve an incredible workforce of companions and circle of relatives and other folks round me that be sure that we will nonetheless do issues. We did numerous charity occasions on Zoom. We zoomed in and met children over all of the 12 months, whether or not it used to be other folks combating most cancers or no matter they had been going via. So, we nonetheless did fairly slightly of public outreach. I am very lucky sufficient that numerous other folks stayed with me, even if we were not ready to do in particular person occasions. Presently, it is a dream come true. Operating with an organization like Gretzky Estates at this time, I am getting the chance to nonetheless are living out my dream of being a full-time athlete, doing the occasions I wish to do. And other folks had been in my nook, had my again and actually made it imaginable for me to concentrate on hockey this 12 months.
SN: All goals finish one day. How are you at this level reconciling that you simply could be going via all of those studies for the closing time after which beginning a brand new bankruptcy?
GW: Smartly, I feel it is all about how do you mentally body issues? Is not that lifestyles? The enjoying days will finish, however advocacy by no means stops. And the goals and ambitions that I’ve, they do not finish when that ultimate sport ends. I’ll come house and stay pounding the similar drum that I’ve been pounding and in search of alternatives for other folks with disabilities. And at this time, we are seeing simply an ideal shift within the wearing international for minorities and other folks simply getting alternatives. And it is been amusing for me to coach this 12 months and take a seat again as an informal fan and spot some of these wonderful other folks get wonderful alternatives. And I will be able to’t wait to complete enjoying and throw my hat within the ring for a few of these alternatives as smartly.
SN: From a Canadian standpoint, if the ones colors are enjoying, persons are invested. And it doesn’t matter what stage of competitors, the expectancy is gold. The eagerness is superb however entering sledge in particular, they could simply suppose that the similar issues are true from observing conventional Olympic competitors, the place the idea is you wish to have to overcome the Russians and American citizens, however we predict gold. Are you able to put into context what the contest is taking a look like for Group Canada and the way truthful or unfair that burden is?
GW: It is a fully wonderful query, and you are spot on as a result of that does occur in our game. And there may be been years the place perhaps we had been the No. 3 or fourth-ranked group going right into a Video games, however that expectation remains to be the similar. And oddly sufficient, the closing time we went right into a Video games ranked fourth used to be 2006 in Torino, Italy, and we ended up profitable the gold. After which there may be any other event we had been ranked No. 1 and got here out with a bronze or a silver.
It is all the time arduous to play into the ones expectancies, however for us, there may be numerous parody in our game. And we open our event in opposition to america. And now we have a actually difficult time table. So, you are no longer going to track in and spot 13-1 video games, 15-1 video games. You are going to proper off the hop see some actually aggressive, actually intense hockey. And I love that. To me, that is a promoting function of our game. That is one thing that may get Canadians engaged and actually need to be aware of it. So, yeah, you are lifeless proper.
The expectancies are heavy, they are arduous, however they are value it finally.
SN: You discussed being attentive to the feminine hockey competitors that simply came about and we had a broader dialog on whether or not or no longer the loss of parity implies that we will have to exchange how we view the importance of that medal. As somebody who is in it and competes and understands, I am curious what your perspective is on that dialog, at the loss of parity in ladies’s game, but in addition on the identical time attempting to determine the best way to develop ladies’s game.
GW: It actually makes me bring to mind the quote “management is lonely and it is lonely on the most sensible” and what those ladies are doing whilst you take a look at the Canadians and the American citizens is lovely wonderful. And you wish to have to push it to a degree for folks to aspire to. From time to time it may not appear to be the fairest factor. However those ladies, they teach full-time. For us as Paralympians, we teach full-time. And the rationale we do this is in order that different international locations who aspire to be at that stage can take a look at it and say if we wish to get there, if we wish to be Olympic or Paralympic gold medallist, that is how arduous we need to paintings. And it is a actually prime bar. And it isn’t going to look truthful initially. However because it builds and because it grows and as different international locations catch up, it is value it.
While you take a look at the boys’s sport at this time, glance how excellent Finland is, a rustic of simply 5.5 million other folks and the way smartly they do at ice hockey. Smartly, they’ve the correct coaching conduct, they’ve the correct training, the correct ways, the correct techniques in position.
There’s a technique to do it. However international locations should be keen to position within the assets to make it occur. And that’s the reason one of the vital causes I am so proud to be Canadian is as a result of we are a rustic that provides other folks with disabilities alternatives. It lets in me to coach to be an athlete. We give ladies alternatives, other folks of color alternatives, sexual orientation, the ones alternatives are there. And so frequently whilst you take a look at a rustic, their remedy of Paralympic athletes, their remedy of ladies, you’ll frequently get somewhat sight into how that nation treats their other folks. So, it is one of the vital issues that makes me actually proud to be Canadian.
SN: You’ve got been somebody who has driven the bar in sledge and Paralympic game. As a result of that, I am positive you’ve got heard the descriptors come since you’re so adorned. Greg Westlake is the Wayne Gretzky of sledge. I’m wondering how you’re taking that, whether or not this is moderately of a praise or whether or not it robs you of a few of your individual individuality and company. After we make the ones form of cross-competition comparisons, how does that take a seat with you?
GW: Wayne Gretzky is the GOAT. He is the best of all-time. He is the most efficient hockey participant to ever play. The place I just like the comparability is the eagerness for Canadian hockey. I will be able to by no means even discuss on ability. I am not even that form of participant. I am extra of a gritty, two-way more or less man. I dreamed to be Wayne Gretzky. However for me, the place it shines via and you’ll relate to that is the opposite day I used to be on YouTube and I watched the speech he gave from the 2002 Video games after Theo Fleury used to be getting cross-checked within the again. He got here out and mentioned “guy, Canadian hockey avid gamers are up in opposition to it. Different international locations wish to beat Canada. They surrender their absolute best sport each time they play Canada.”
So, the place I believe a relation to Wayne Gretzky is that keenness for Canadians, that keenness for Canada to achieve success. That 2002 speech, I watched it the opposite day. I had goosebumps. I sought after to move play a sport tomorrow. Then additional to that, once we received gold in 2006, he referred to as us earlier than that gold-medal sport, and he reached out and talked to us in regards to the pleasure of the jersey and what it way to play for Canada.
His brother is helping us run a Paralympic golfing event each summer time. Walter, when he used to be right here, God bless Walter, he got here annually and helped reinforce our group to boost price range for Paralympic athletes. The entire circle of relatives are simply wonderful other folks, passionate Canadians. Then you definitely take a look at the Wayne Gretzky Estates, nice at the ice, nice off the ice. The whole lot they do is pursuing greatness. So, for me, it is simply such an honour to be affiliated and even discussed in the similar breath. I am only a proud Canadian hockey participant and I like the spot I am in.
SN: Beginner game around the board is all the time short of investment and reinforce. And Paralympic athletes are not any other. The truth that of all of the athletes Gretzky Estates sought after to spouse with and reinforce that they signalled out you, how vital is it for the company facet of Canada to acknowledge and reinforce Paralympic athletes?
GW: It is large. It is usually a perfect lesson for management as a result of Wayne Gretzky did not simply have this wonderful profession and cross cover away someplace and experience lifestyles. I am positive he is playing lifestyles, however then he comes to a decision to change into an honorary board member of the Canadian Paralympic Committee. I am taking those lifestyles classes and I am simply announcing “ok, when my enjoying days are completed, what can I do subsequent? What board can I sign up for? How can I assist?”
It is a nice street map to practice. You take a look at the Gretzky Estates and the whole thing that is long gone on after his enjoying profession. That is what I am looking to emulate. That is what I am looking to do. It is completely an enormous honor. Right here we are actually pursuing greatness in combination. Each time I say it, I simply get goosebumps and pleasure to play.
SN: As Canadians are getting up, or staying as much as watch you and the opposite Paralympic athletes compete for Canada, if there’s something you wish to have them to know in regards to the Video games, about our group and in regards to the dedication of the ones athletes and the reinforce techniques round them, what wouldn’t it be?
GW: I am only one small tale, and for me, I’d inform them why I fell in love with Paralympic sports activities and that is the reason the folks concerned. Now we have army veterans on our group. Now we have most cancers survivors on our group. However take a look at one of the vital largest Canadians of all time, Terry Fox, and the footprint he left on our nation. I believe like I am surrounded by way of the ones forms of other folks each day, and their tales do not get to get heard.
So, from now till March 13, everybody in Canada has the chance to track in and meet some new heroes. Meet people who find themselves neighborhood leaders and creating a distinction in other folks’s lives. It made a distinction in mine, and I do know it is going to on yours.