People of Georgian: Paralympian shares ‘unreal’ experiences he nearly missed

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People of Georgian: Meet Brad Bowden

It’s unreal. I can’t believe I did all that.

As I’m sitting in my car waiting for a coffee in the drive-thru at Timmy’s in Barrie, thinking a couple years ago I was playing in front of thousands of people.

A person wearing a red-and-black para ice hockey uniform and black helmet, skates across the ice and handles a puck with their stick.

Every Paralympics is different.

Sochi, for me, I found it interesting that there was such a big doping scandal going on right under our noses. They might even make a movie about it one day.

With Vancouver, being on home soil and my grandfather being able to watch, that had its own special meaning.

It’s just a surreal feeling to be able to finally make it and know that you’re there to represent an entire country and you’ve worked hard and there’s no turning back.

For me, it’s just the empty rink. I think about those moments. The first time you get there it’s unreal. You’re playing in a stadium that’s like the Scotiabank Arena here.

The Toronto Maple Leafs play in front of sold out crowds all the time, but for someone like myself and my teammates when you get an opportunity to play a sport like sledge hockey there, it’s so different. There’s nothing like it.

There are not a lot of places you go in the world where you know, ‘I have to be the absolute best I can be – this week.’

Brad Bowden

We had a coach who made us practice with the volume up on the stereo of a crowd going so loud because that’s the environment. You can’t even hear yourself think it’s so loud.

It hits you that you’re on the grand stage, that there are going to be people watching this time.

There are not a lot of places you go in the world where you know, “I have to be the absolute best I can be – this week.”

It’s so amazing to have had that Paralympics opportunity and be able to wear the jersey now.

‘I knew I was different. I didn’t like it’

And to think I didn’t want to play in the first place.

I was a very aware kid. I knew I was different. I didn’t like it.

I was a social kid, so I was always friends with everybody. But when it came to sports, I didn’t like it when everybody else had an advantage.

I guess my grandmother saw all the other kids were doing something on the weekends and so why shouldn’t I? I don’t know how she found any of these programs, but she found one in Brampton that had an open court so I tried that. It changed my mind. I really had a lot of fun. I’m glad I went.

For anyone out there who is reluctant to try inclusive sports, you might not like my advice: Get over yourself and try everything. Try something once.

‘What a shame it would have been if I never tried’

I look back at my own mindset as a child, even my early 20s, just attacking it all wrong with some things. You have to try some things.

You can’t know you don’t like something unless you try.

If I had never tried it and just said, “No grandma, I don’t want to do it. I love Super Nintendo instead,” I never would have travelled the world or inspired kids and people in an entire country.

A person with short brown hair, red sweater reading "Canada," blue jeans and sitting in a wheelchair, smiles for a photo with a child who's also wearing a red sweater reading "Canada."

All these things I’ve woken up to. It’s not about the medals, it’s about the people you get to impact in the world.

Our limitations push us toward where we sometimes belong, toward better paths. My limitations pushed me toward the sledge hockey world I didn’t have an interest in, and it made me open my eyes

What a shame it would have been if I never tried.

Brad Bowden, alumnus of Georgian’s Art and Design Fundamentals (class of 2009) and Graphic Design (class of 2013) programs.

He recently received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Georgian’s Board of Governors’ Awards of Distinction.

He’s one of a few Paralympic athletes to win gold in both the summer and winter games. A force for Team Canada in para ice hockey, he captured gold in Torino in 2006 and played wheelchair basketball in Athens in 2004, where Canada won gold. He is now Program Development Facilitator at All Sports All People.

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