The ultimate goal: Making powerhockey a paralympic sport

About Motion - 15 Min Read

The ultimate goal: Making powerhockey a paralympic sport

Thinking back to the Abilities Expo in Toronto in the Spring of 2019, pre-Covid-19, and I was at our Motion booth. Seems so foreign now to think of a trade show with tons of people in one building, mask-free, and no hand sanitizer in sight! I love going to these events to represent Motion, meet with our clients, and visit the other booths. It was here where I first met Paul Desaulniers at the PowerHockey Canada booth. Some of the team members I already knew as Motion clients, such as Meghan Hines, but I had no idea they were on a hockey team and that it wasn’t just a pastime, it was a true passion. It was a community. Here Paul introduced me to the sport and asked if Motion would be interested in sponsoring the 2019 PowerHockey Canada Cup as well as the Toronto team – the Toronto Toros. Fast forward a few months to July 2019 and I attended my first game. Not just any game, but the PowerHockey Canada Cup. I warned them that as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan I am obnoxious and loud when it comes to hockey and guaranteed they would hear me from the sidelines as I cheered them on. I was joined by two of our Mobility & Accessibility Consultants who have also known many of the players as long-time clients.

The game was incredibly fast-paced. Energetic. Aggressive. Competitive. I had every reason to be loud! I remember eagerly looking for Meghan to see when she would play. Meghan is a person I would describe as bright, articulate, friendly. But somehow, I just knew she had a competitive streak and it was going to be great to see her play and kick butt against a bunch of guys. She didn’t disappoint. The Toronto Toros brought home Silver. I went to work and told everyone about the game. I told my husband and my friends about it. It was awesome. I was hooked.

So here we are in 2020 and this year’s games have been postponed due to the pandemic. Despite this pause, the sport is very much alive as is the passion Paul and Meghan have for it. They are not only part of the Toronto Toros team, but are co-founders of both PowerHockey Canada and PowerHockey Toronto, sitting on the Board of Directors for both organizations. Paul is President and Meghan is Vice President of PowerHockey Canada. I had the opportunity to speak with them about the game and their love for it, and I am very honoured to share their inspirational stories.

In preparation to interview them, I checked out the PowerHockey Canada website to learn more about the sport. Their website includes their Mission, Vision, Goals, and Objectives, and mentions the True Sport Principles, so this is where I started our conversation. Their dream is to see powerhockey become a Paralympic sport. Of all the True Sport Principles, I was curious to learn what resonated most with each of them and why. Both Meghan and Paul listed inclusion. Meghan stated, “Powerhockey has a very broad demographic of people who can play and everyone on the floor has a role, no matter what their physical abilities.” For Paul, it is a sense of belonging. “I can’t walk, but for that one to two hours every week, playing, I am just like everyone else,” Paul said. “Just being your excellent, whatever that is, is good.” 

I had read into their biographies and learned Meghan had played several sports recreationally and competitively. It made me wonder, why powerhockey? Meghan shared, “It was belonging to something I could excel at, grow and progress with, and be a strong competitor. It was the team aspect versus an individual sport.” As she described, her fellow teammates and friends are her “hockey family.” Meghan shared the peer mentorship that came along with the powerhockey community and how it had a positive impact on her life growing up. She could look up to the older team members as role models. She saw first-hand that “they went to university, lived independently, worked, so why couldn’t I? This truly helped me navigate my life with a disability,” said Meghan.  

As members of the Toronto Toros, I had to wonder how Paul and Meghan found themselves starting PowerHockey Canada and how they balanced their dual roles of being a competitive coach and player while supporting the entire organization. Paul shared that he saw his move to becoming involved in management as thinking of the future, about the impact that he could have, and seeing a different side of the sport. “It’s a different perspective for me, understanding as players, coaches, and volunteers,” shared Paul. “How can I further this impact for the future?” In 2017, Paul stopped playing and started coaching. It was a renewed passion to “enact change.”

Paul spoke of the 2018 World Championship and the national pride it brought them. “We could be an international powerhouse,” he said. “What’s stopping us? Nothing has stopped us in life, school, work. Why can’t we do this too? We can be drivers of change by accepting and creating that role to be that leader.”  

By this point in the conversation, I realized this was something special. I felt incredibly humbled. I still do. I realized I was not just hearing about a parasport organization. I was hearing about their lives, what this meant to them on a deeply personal level and knowing that every person in their organization had a similar shared experience. 

Paul and Meghan further explained their dual roles. Their powerhockey vision is to move the sport forward in Canada, get the word out there, and debunk myths and assumptions about disability. I learned that in Europe it is far more advanced and taken seriously, including governments funding both a sports wheelchair and daily use wheelchair. In Denmark, they have powerhockey para-athletes who have won prestigious awards for their accomplishments. I felt shocked by that because Canada is a hockey nation after all. Why don’t we have such awards? Paul and Meghan chalked it up not to how the sport is viewed, but more symptomatic of how living with a disability is viewed; relaying that in places like Scandinavia their viewpoint is far more advanced. 

About his role with PowerHockey Toronto and the Toronto Toros, Paul explained it is “grassroots;” helping players to develop and make sure the organization is sustainable. In his role in management, he learned how it works with recruitment, scheduling and fundraising. That grassroots commitment has fueled PowerHockey Canada. That “base knowledge of what it takes to start at the league level, fuels and fosters growth,” says Paul. “It is a catalyst to push yourself to take it across the country. That one hour you are there to win. To compete. Seeing a player who rarely scores, that they have accomplished something if you could bottle and sell that feeling you would be exponentially rich.” When it comes to playing the other teams in the league, he says they are there to compete “no holds barred.” I would agree after witnessing them play!

After going to the game last summer and watching some games on YouTube, I couldn’t help but notice there were not a lot of women players. It is a sport that holds inclusion as part of its core values and early in our conversation Meghan mentioned the importance of that to her, including that the sport was gender-neutral. On this topic, Meghan commented on how “women can play this sport just as well, maybe even better than men,” but “as a woman, like in other co-ed sports, sometimes you feel like you have a bit more to prove.” She commented that she “didn’t want to be viewed as a role model but wanted to get more girls involved. I hope women and girls can feel empowered to accomplish anything after seeing women like myself competing with the men on an equal playing field.” When she was younger, her male classmates were sometimes shocked to learn she played hockey. Especially when they learned she travelled across provinces and countries to play and they got to travel to Scarborough.” I had to laugh at that! To this, Paul commented, “Meghan is one of the best defensive players in the game, but don’t let it get to her head.” I have no doubt that she is the best!

We went on further to discuss the rules and player classification system from Level 1 to Level 3, and again the principle of inclusion came up. Paul commented that while the players are all physiologically different it is not a factor in powerhockey as it would be in other sports. “We are equal,” said Paul. “You are the best at what you play. It is pretty cool.” Meghan explained that the player classifications were to ensure the representation of different abilities during a game versus skills. Based on your abilities there may be a natural position you play, but there were no strict rules. 

So how did the Toronto Toros prepare to go up against a competitor? Did they learn about their opponent? Watch videos of their games? Learn about their players? Of that, Paul replied, “If I told you that, I would have to kill you”. Right there was that merciless, go-for-the-kill, powerhockey player. They did share that there was a change in strategy to each game, team, and playing style. I cannot divulge further, fearing for my life.

So how was the team faring during this pandemic? With the games postponed, how was this hockey family affected? The sense of community and friendships impacted due to COVID-19? Meghan replied, “It’s been interesting. Someone started a WhatsApp chat for the Toros. We chat often on Zoom calls and continue to stay connected with our powerhockey friends from around the world who we usually only see every one to two years.” It didn’t really seem to phase them and I suppose, like anything else, nothing was going to stop them and that was that.

I asked them if they had anything they wanted to share in closing. Meghan relayed, “Being involved in powerhockey has shaped my life in many ways. Travelling to Italy and Australia. Having my name in the Hockey Hall of Fame. These are all things I probably wouldn’t have accomplished without having a disability. People often think having a disability is a burden. That I wish I wasn’t. Sure, there are some things that are frustrating about having a disability, but if there was a miracle or a magic cure, I’m not sure I would take it. I wouldn’t be the person I am today or have the same opportunities without my disability.”  

Paul shared, “For me personally, any person I talk to, I tell them to get involved. Just do it. Don’t wonder or question. Just do it. It has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. 22 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought any of this was going to happen. Jump in feet first. Every person who gets involved gets something that’s truly beyond words. Get involved, coach, play, volunteer, watch. In your city, in your town, province. Get involved. It is about changing perspectives. Disability is not a bad thing. It is our lives. Going to movies, playing video games, cooking. We are people. It is about how we can use parasport to change perspectives and make a lasting change, leaving the world a better place.” 

I don’t think I can truly do justice for the life experiences Meghan and Paul shared with me. Their passion for the sport and PowerHockey Canada. What it really means. How personally inspired I felt and still feel. I have no doubt in my mind that Paul, Meghan, the other players, and all those involved in this sport will achieve their goal of making this a paralympic sport. That they will grow the awareness of powerhockey across Canada and see new teams form in every province. More and more people will love the sport and get involved because of their passion. For every player that joins, that feeling of inclusion, pride, accomplishment, and family will be felt, just like it has for Paul and Meghan. They will all be a part of changing people’s perspectives about disability. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. In closing, “Everyone should really just try it and they will fall in love with the sport,” said Meghan. I know I have.   

This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.