Shaw pursuing Paralympics

Canadian Paralympic Committee, March 30, 2021
Photo Credit: Scott Grant, Canadian Paralympic Committee

Originally from Moose Jaw, Para swimmer Krystal Shaw has been dreaming of competing in the Paralympics since she was 12 years old.

That dream got more difficult in 2020 as not only were the Tokyo Games postponed, but competitions and trials were cancelled and opportunities to train were limited and restricted.

Despite all that, Shaw, who now lives and trains in Regina, has continued to work towards her goal to the best of her abilities.

Read and watch the full story on Global News

Gilbert headed for Florida

Softball Canada, March 24, 2021
Photo Credit: Softball Canada

With the Tokyo Olympic Games just over four months away, the women’s Canadian softball team is coming together in Florida for a series of exhibition games against local teams.

Joining them as a part of the 18-player roster is Saskatoon outfielder Jenny Gilbert. The 15-player Olympic roster is expected to be announced in June.

Canada is scheduled to play the Florida Southwester State Buccaneers on March 27 and April 3, as well as the Florida Gators on April 10, with there being potential for more games to be added.

Read the full story on softball.ca

Aikens competing in Dubai

Rugby Canada, March 24, 2021
Photo Credit: Rugby Canada

It’s been over a year since the women’s Rugby Canada 7s team has had the chance to compete, but the team, which has already qualified for Tokyo, will get a chance to shake the rust off when they head to Dubai for a pair of two pre-Olympic tournaments.

Joining the team will be Briercrest’s Delaney Aikens, who has been named to the 19-player traveling roster for the back-to-back tournament dates of April 2-3 and April 8-9.

Read the full story on rugby.ca

Sask trio making waves

Photo Credit (Krystal Shaw): Canadian Paralympic Committee

With dedication, record-breaking performances and podium finishes, Krystal Shaw, Shelby Newkirk and Nikita Ens are not only putting the Saskatchewan on the Para swimming map but inspiring the next generation.

It’s representation and growth that’s been a long time coming, especially for Shaw, who faced challenges and isolation as a pioneer of the sport in Saskatchewan when she began swimming at the age of nine.

“I was the first Para swimmer on my team and no one really had any knowledge of the sport,” explained Shaw who competes in the S7, SB6 and SM7 classes. “My coach [at that time] had never coached a Para swimmer before. At competitions I would be swimming against people much older than me and able bodied, too.”

Despite those barriers, Shaw continued to swim.

“I was the first Para swimmer on my team and no one really had any knowledge of the sport. My coach [at that time] had never coached a Para swimmer before. At competitions I would be swimming against people much older than me and able bodied, too.”

Krystal Shaw on the beginnings of her Para swimming journey

And while her participation primarily served as therapy to assist with her arthrogryposis and for after-school activity, Shaw began to make times that qualified her for ManSask and eventually Can-Am championships.

The events provided Shaw with an opportunity to compete against other Para swimmers, but also the ensuing results changed Shaw’s perspective on swimming. She started to see it as a competitive endeavour with long-term goals instead of a recreational activity.  

“My career really started taking off after I qualified for Can-Ams. I won two silver medals at those championships and that was the moment where I found my passion and wanted to try out for the Paralympics.”

Unfortunately, Shaw’s Paralympic dreams were put on hold in 2010, when complications from a blood clot and its effects on her life both in and out of the pool forced her to take a break from swimming. But during her absence, Saskatchewan’s high performance Para swimming group began to grow.

First came Newkirk.

Following a diagnosis of generalized dystonia in 2010, Newkirk (S7, SB5, SM7) was left seeking to fill the competitive gap from being unable to participate in many of the able-bodied sports she previously competed in.

“Up until I was diagnosed, I’d been involved in pretty much every sport imaginable,” said Newkirk. “After I was diagnosed, I could no longer do those sports and I just spent a year sitting around not sure what I could do, not sure where I belonged anymore.”

Thanks to the help of her first coach Karen Williams —a colleague of her mother’s who introduced her to Para swimming in 2011 when the family was living in Winnipeg— Newkirk quickly found her place in the pool.

Even with early successes, however, it wasn’t until a few years into her career that Newkirk started to learn more about parasports and the opportunities they provided, such as competing at the Paralympics. That knowledge gave Newkirk a new goal, which was wholeheartedly supported by Williams.

“I brought up to my coach that I really wanted to make the Paralympics someday as one of my goals,” explained Newkirk, who has been nominated to Canada’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympic team. “My coach then told me ‘It’s not if you make the Paralympics, it’s when.’ I really took that to heart and it lit a fire in me to know that I could get there with a lot of hard work, which is where I am now.”

“I think it’s great that swimmers can look up to and see that even though they may be from a smaller centre, that doesn’t mean anything for their goals. You can set goals as big as you want and no matter where you’re from and no matter what circumstances life has thrown your way, they’re possible if you work hard.”

Shelby Newkirk on Para swimming in Saskatchewan

In addition to her own development, Newkirk has also been instrumental in getting many other athletes involved in Para swimming, including Ens, who credits Newkirk’s tenacity out of the water for getting her in the water in 2017.

“I met Shelby at church one day before I started swimming and she was one of the people who invited me out. At first I said no, but she was persistent.”

Like Shaw, Ens wasn’t interested in the competitive side of the sport when she first started, instead using it as a means of fitness, exercise and meeting people after she was involved in a car accident that left her as a C5 paraplegic.

But her times and results at multiple events, including Western Canadian Championships and Canadian Trials drove Ens (S3, SB2 and SM3) to seek more opportunities and higher levels of competition.

“After I’d finished my first race at the 2018 Western Canadian Championships, one of the officials came up to me and told me I’d broken at Canadian record. That’s when the fire was lit!”

With Shaw returning to competition in 2016 as part of Regina’s Flatland Swimming Club, all three swimmers are now representing Canada at the highest levels and leaving their marks.

In 2019, Shaw earned three silvers and one bronze medal at the Parapan Am Games, while Newkirk won a silver medal in the S7 100-metre backstroke at the World Para Swimming Championships —helping her to earn her Paralympic nomination— and Ens twice finished in the top eight at those same championships.

Reaching those heights together has allowed the group to form a strong relationship that has assisted them not only by providing a little bit of home while traveling and competing, but through offering support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re all going for the same goal and definitely the plan has changed, but we’re still working together and looking forward to being back as a team,” explained Newkirk. “For now, though, we’re supporting each other virtually as best we can.”

Adding to their friendship is a shared love for their sport and the personal experience swimming offers them. All three tried a number of parasport activities, including track and field, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball, but the freedom of being in the water, unrestricted by gravity, is what drew them all to Para swimming.

“After I’d finished my first race at the 2018 Western Canadian Championships, one of the officials came up to me and told me I’d broken at Canadian record. That’s when the fire was lit!”

Nikita Ens on why she continues to Para swim

“It’s the only place where I can leave my mobility devices behind,” said Newkirk. “I can get out of my chair, jump in the water and just swim away. It’s just me.”

Shaw, Newkirk and Ens are now sharing that feeling and their experiences with other athletes to motivate them to try Para swimming and see where it can take them.

Those efforts are particularly evident in Saskatoon where Newkirk and Ens have worked alongside their Lasers Swimming Club and Canadian Paralympic swimming coach, Eric Kramer, to build a learn-to-swim group – the only in Canada. Prior to COVID-19, the group registered close to 30 participants, with a mix of Para swimmers of all ages and abilities, including some swimmers’ family members.

From the group, there are about six or seven athletes who are now moving into the competitive side of Para swimming, which can only mean better things for the growth of the sport in Saskatchewan and further recognition for the province’s talent, says Newkirk.

“I think it’s great that swimmers can look up to and see that even though they may be from a smaller centre, that doesn’t mean anything for their goals. You can set goals as big as you want and no matter where you’re from and no matter what circumstances life has thrown your way, they’re possible if you work hard.”

One year away

Canada Paralympic Committee, March 4, 2021
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

Canada’s Paralympians will be taking to the slopes, ski course, and ice at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games one year from today, as the countdown clock to the Opening Ceremony officially hit 365 days on Thursday.

The Canadian Paralympic Team is coming off a thrilling, record-breaking performance three years ago in PyeongChang, winning 28 medals with many personal bests and milestones along the way. Despite a lack of competition opportunities over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s top winter Para athletes continue to train and prepare for the Games, with new goals for Beijing 2022.

“I am thinking of and celebrating the many Canadian athletes who continue to dedicate themselves to achieving their Paralympic goals,” said Josh Dueck, chef de mission, Beijing 2022 Canadian Paralympic Team. “The pursuit of excellence takes incredible focus and drive, and now more than ever, we need to let our cheers be heard for our athletes who represent our great country.

“The Paralympic Games are the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, and our athletes will be strong and passionate representatives of Canada’s voice as we elevate, motivate and inspire all Canadians through our actions both on and off the fields of play.”

The award-winning Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium will continue as official broadcaster for Beijing 2022 following the Tokyo Games – which this summer will feature primetime coverage for the first time, hosted by CBC Sports’ Scott Russell – marking the fifth straight Paralympic Games it will be bringing live action to Canadians across the country. Led by the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the consortium is comprised of multiple media partners including CBC/Radio-Canada and AMI. CBC/Radio-Canada continues to be the home of the Paralympic Games in Canada, enhancing their commitment to the Paralympic Movement with substantial coverage planned for both the upcoming Tokyo and Beijing Paralympic Games.

The Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games will take place March 4-13, 2022, with Canada set to compete in all five sports (Para alpine skiing, Para ice hockey, Para nordic skiing – biathlon and cross-country, Para snowboard, and wheelchair curling).

Hudak update

CTV Calgary, March 2, 2021
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

Despite not being able to compete for a World Championship, Para nordic skier Brittany Hudak found a new passion.

With an undergraduate degree in social work, Hudak has spent the last year working at a group home in Canmore.

“I see so much potential in all of them and I love just being a person that can be in their corner and rooting for them,” said Hudak to CTV Calgary. “I’m really just trying to let them know that I am there to support them.”

Hudak, a 2018 bronze medallist at the Paralympics, is continuing to train for a spot at the 2022 Games in Beijing.

Watch CTV Calgary Story

Curling qualification

CurlingCanada, February 4, 2021

Curling Canada announced changes to qualification trials for four-player and mixed doubles earlier this month.

With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling many competitive curling events, which were slated to help determine the teams, the revised criteria allows a broader group to be in the mix for the 2022 Winter Games. Nine women’s and nine men’s teams will compete at the four-player trials, while 16 tams will compete at the mixed doubles trials.

The winners of the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Tim Hortons Brier will qualify for the trials. Other teams, who have yet to qualify, will have an opportunity during pre-tournament events throughout the fall.

The Tim Hortons Curling Trials will be November 20-28 at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon for four-player and December 28 – January 2 for mixed-doubles (host city yet to be determined).

Read full qualifying standards

COVID Playbooks released

Paralympic.org, February 9, 2021

Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, a series of Playbooks have been released by the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee that outline the responsibilities of all Games participants and the rules that must be followed.

The Playbooks are meant to ensure that the Games are a safe and healthy experience for the Olympic and Paralympic participants as well as the people of Tokyo and Japan.

The Playbooks have been broken down into four categories: Athletes and Officials, International Federations, Press and Broadcasters.

Find the Playbook appropriate for you.

WBB camp goes virtual

Basketball Canada, February 2, 2021
Photo Credit: Canada Basketball / Victory

Canada to play in Group A at Olympics as women’s national team meets for virtual camp

The Canadian women’s basketball team, led by Saskatchewan-based head coach Lisa Thomaidis, will face off against South Korea, Serbia and Spain in the group phase of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics following the Draw Ceremony on Feb. 2, 2021.

Canada qualified for the Olympics almost a year ago to the day after going undefeated at the qualifying tournament Feb. 6-9, 2020 in Belgium.

In the year since, members of the women’s national team have continued to prepare for the Games and will get another opportunity to do so this week when 20 of them —including Regina’s Quinn Dornstauder— connect for a virtual training camp.

Read more about training camp.

Read more about the Olympic Draw Ceremony.

Aikens success in Rugby 7s

Yorkton This Week, January 29, 2021
Photo Credit: Rugby Canada

Saskatchewan farm girl Delaney Aikens is finding success in Rugby 7s.

Growing up playing hockey, Aikens discovered rugby while attending Notre Dame Collegiate in Wilcox, Sask. The 20-year-old from Briercrest, Sask., first started playing the traditional 15 person rugby game. She competed on the Saskatchewan U16 and U18 rugby teams before starting to focus on Rugby 7s.

Attending UBC to play varsity rugby, Aikens cracked Canada’s youth roster and is now flagged as a potential team member for the Olympic Games. A spot she helped Canada secure at the Pan American Games.

Read Delaney Aikens full story from Yorkton This Week