Supporting Canadian Athletes

David Wilsie

When David Willsie was paralyzed at age 27, he wasn’t interested in trying wheelchair sports because he thought they wouldn’t be competitive. A lifelong athlete who excelled in baseball, cross country running and hockey, David was injured when he fell head first into the boards during a hockey game and broke his neck. It took a hospital visit from a couple of wheelchair rugby athletes to finally convince David to check out a game and give wheelchair sports a chance.

“As soon as I entered the gym, I saw a guy go flying out of his wheelchair,” says David, who was instantly hooked.

David is now gearing up for his third Paralympic Games as a member of Canada’s wheelchair rugby team and serves as the team’s captain and athlete representative — positions he has held since 2001. David is also president of the interim Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) Athlete Council which is working to create a permanent council for Canada’s Paralympic athletes.

David was born and raised in London, Ont. He has a marketing diploma from Fanshawe College and works at his family’s home building centre. David started playing wheelchair rugby with the London Annihilators in 1997 (two years after his accident). He made the Ontario team in 1998 and was named to the national team that same year.

“I was rough around the edges, but the coach saw something he liked and gave me a shot,” says David, of his quick rise to the national team.

The Canadians won a bronze at the world championships that year and David has been a member of the team ever since.

David went to his first Paralympics in Sydney in 2000, where Canada finished fourth. David is the first to admit the team didn’t play up to their potential. In fact, it was the worst ever international showing for the Canadian wheelchair rugby team, who had medaled at all previous events they’d competed in.

“It was tough to swallow,” says David.

But despite the disappointing performance in Sydney the experience was an unforgettable one.

“It was unbelievable,” David says. “To go there and play my sport in front of sold out crowds… It was a great thrill.”

Canada had better luck on the rugby court four years later in Athens where they won silver. Now, the team is preparing for Beijing and with a third place world ranking (behind the U.S. and Australia) and they have high hopes for a medal.

David was named co-captain of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team in 2001 and progressed into the athlete rep role soon after. He says his rep role has been easy as his NSO — the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association — always has the athletes’ best interests in mind.

“Our sport really does promote the athlete voice and opinion so I’ve never had to push,” says David. “It’s nice to know the athlete voice is very well heard.”

David attended his first AthletesCAN Forum in Toronto in 2002. Since then he has been to five Forums and really enjoys the interaction with other athletes.

“We’re all so involved in our own sports that to get a chance to meet others and hear their stories is really great,” he says. “I come from a team sport so to hang out with athletes from individual sports and able-bodied sports and learn from them is great. The Forum is a win/win all around.”

At the 2007 AthletesCAN Forum in Whitehorse, YK, David was named by a group of his Paralympic peers to head up an interim CPC Athlete Council.

“There were very qualified people in that room,” says David of his selection as president. “The fact that they chose me is an honour.”

David is joined on the interim council by Jason Dunkerley (athletics), Jessica Tuomela (swimming), Misty Thomas (wheelchair basketball), Alec Denys (AthletesCAN/CPC) and Vivian Berkeley (lawn bowls).

The goal is to have a permanent Paralympic Athlete Council in place, with the support of all sports and an elected chair, within a year. The chair will sit on the board of the CPC and the council will also hold a seat on the AthletesCAN Board of Directors. The interim council will work together over the next year to put in place the administrative structures and bylaws. The official announcement of the CPC Athletes Council and elections are expected to take place at the 2008 AthletesCAN Forum in Mississauga in October.

Following Beijing, David will head right into the North American wheelchair rugby season and has his sights set on the 2010 world championships in Richmond, BC.

David is featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Murderball’.

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