Peterborough athlete Cody Caldwell is one of 12 athletes selected by Wheelchair Rugby Canada and the Canadian Paralympic Committee to represent Canada at the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games in August.
Currently ranked fifth in the world, Canada travels to Lima looking to defend its gold medal from the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto. Four years ago, the Canadian team defeated arch-rivals the United States 57-54 in the final. Seven members of that team, all of whom are also Paralympians, are returning to the squad. Five players will be making their major games debut.
“The team selection for Lima 2019 has been the hardest process, since Dave (Willsie, assistant coach) and I joined the national team program as coaches,” says head coach Patrick Côté.
“We are confident that the team we have selected will give us the best chance to succeed, in what will be a difficult competition with highly competitive opponents. Ultimately, our goal is to win gold in Lima, which will automatically qualify Canada for Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
Along with Caldwell, the other selected athletes are Patrice Dagenais (Embrun, Ontario), Eric Furtado Rodrigues (Mississauga, Ontario), Trevor Hirschfield (Parksville, B.C.), Mélanie Labelle (St-Hubert, Quebec), Zak Madell (Okotoks, Alberta), Travis Murao (Richmond, B.C.), Benjamin Perkins (North Augusta, Ontario), Patrice Simard (Quebec City, Quebec), Shayne Smith (Toronto, Ontario), Branden Troutman (Lloydminster, Alberta), and Mike Whitehead (Windsor, Ontario).
Caldwell, Dagenais, Hirschfield, Madell, Murao, Simard, and Whitehead are Paralympians who also competed at the 2015 Parapan American Games.
Caldwell began his wheelchair rugby career in 2008 at the age of 20, after becoming a quadriplegic following a diving accident in Alberta. Just a week after his accident, he saw the documentary Murderball and immediately decided to play the wheelchair rugby.
The former Peterborough Petes AAA goalie and soccer player quickly adapted to the sport and earned himself a strong reputation for his mix of intelligence and speed. It would ultimately lead to Cody making the Canadian national wheelchair rugby team in 2013 and, shortly thereafter, winning gold at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games.
He would go on to participate in his first Paralympic Games in 2016, just missing a medal with Canada finishing fourth. In June, Toyota announced Caldwell as one of 10 Canadian athletes to join Team Toyota, a sponsorship for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
The wheelchair rugby competition in Lima, Peru will begin on Friday, August 23rd and conclude with a gold medal match on Tuesday, August 27th.
Canada will compete in a round-robin against the United States (world No. 2), Brazil (No. 9), Colombia (No. 13), Argentina (No. 20) and Chile (No. 21). The top four teams will then begin a knockout stage, consisting of two semifinals and a final.
The schedule of Canadian games is Canada vs. Argentina on August 23, Canada vs. Brazil and Canada vs. Colombia on August 24, and Canada vs. Chile and Canada vs. USA on August 25. The semifinals will take place on August 26 with the gold and bronze medal games on August 27.
“Our Canadian team has experience and they are determined, and I have no doubt they will put forth an amazing performance in Peru,” says Stephanie Dixon, chef de mission of the Lima 2019 Canadian Parapan Am Team. “Wheelchair rugby is such a thrilling, fast-paced, and demanding sport and it will definitely be a highlight of the Games.”
If the team wins gold in Lima, Canada will qualify directly for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Any other result means Canada, to qualify for Tokyo, would have to compete at the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation 2020 Paralympic Qualification Tournament and finish in the top two positions.
The Lima 2019 Parapan American Games will take place August 23rd to September 1st in Peru and will surpass Toronto 2015 as the largest Parapan Am Games ever, with a record 1,850 athletes set to participate.
Canada is expecting to send a team of approximately 152 athletes and competition partners in 13 sports. The Canadian Paralympic Committee will announce the official full team heading to the Games later this month.