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Pursuing a dream at the Paralympics

James Sawchuk is headed to Pyeongchang as an athletic therapist for the Canadian men’s sledge hockey team.

James Sawchuk, athletic therapist
James Sawchuk received a jersey and bronze medal as the athletic therapist for the men’s hockey team at the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He is now headed to the Pyeonchang Paralympics with the men’s sledge hockey team. (University Communications)

For James Sawchuk it has been a hectic few weeks since he found out that he is going to the Pyeongchang Paralympics.

An athletic therapist with Queen’s Athletics and Recreation, Mr. Sawchuk will be supporting Canada’s sledge hockey team in their pursuit of a gold medal.

While he completed the paperwork in the fall and was added to the team’s long list, he only found out on Jan. 17 that he was going to South Korea. The Paralympics are being held March 9-18.

Since then it has been a rush to get everything in order.

“When they phoned I was absolutely surprised because I really felt that when I did the long list stuff, it was probably exactly that, a long shot, especially a month out from the Olympics,” says the Mallorytown resident. “So those two weeks of organizing, scheduling and all the things I needed to get into place, it felt overwhelming. Not only looking at the things that need to be done in the two weeks prior to leaving for Pyeongchang but even towards the end of March and having everything sorted out for that.” 

Fortunately, he has the full support of Athletics and Recreation to pursue this dream opportunity.

“They were very keen to support this experience,” he says. “The biggest sort of hurdle is that it is playoffs season for several Gaels teams. The question was how are we going to manage all that? So we sat down and came up with a schedule that was going to let me to go and still have the coverage and support that we have here.”

With all the groundwork complete, Mr. Sawchuk then traveled with the team to Buffalo where they faced off with their rivals from the United States in a Paralympics warmup. Finally, the magnitude of what lay ahead started to sink in. 

“I think when it really hit was when the Canadian Paralympic Committee officially announced the team and the staff (after the camp on Sunday, Feb. 11),” he says. “We woke up, had our gear fitting, got the gear that afternoon. That’s when it was ‘Wow, okay. This is happening in two weeks. I am hopping on a plane and flying to Korea.’”

At the Paralympics Mr. Sawchuk will be working to make sure the players are in game shape, helping them with any injuries or aches picked up in a physically-demanding sport. 

“The whole purpose of me being there is to support the players to allow them to take the last four years of work and preparation and be able to put it all out there and be on the ice and participate to the absolute best of their ability,” he says. “Yes, there are obviously things I want to achieve as well but in the end I’m going to Pyeongchang for those players who have been busting it for four years to make sure they live out their Olympic experience.”

This won’t be Mr. Sawchuk’s first international work. At the Winter Univesiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan, he was the athletic therapist for the Canadian men’s hockey team led by Queen’s Gaels head coach Brett Gibson and held the same position for the men’s volleyball team at the 2007 Universiade in Bangkok, Thailand.

Paralympic hockey starts on Friday, March 9. Canada is competing in Group A with Italy, Norway and Sweden.