'I'm just excited': Wheelchair basketball player ready to compete at Canada Games

Alex Hayward has come a long way since taking up wheelchair basketball.

Hayward's life changed in 2012 when he collided with another player playing hockey.

"The guy who was playing with me says the back of my head touched my back," Hayward said.

Hayward, now 21, suffered a severe spinal cord injury.

"I woke up paralyzed from the neck down, even to the point where I was having a hard time breathing."

Movement starting coming back

He says he was lucky — that little by little his movement started coming back.

"I'd just wake up and all of a sudden I could move a little bit more," he said. "And with some hard work and stuff I walked out six months later."

The Saint John native is blunt about his recovery.

"You kind of have to make a choice when you're in a position like that. I just didn't feel like giving up, I guess."

Lauren Bird/CBC News

Soon Hayward found he missed being part of a team.

He went to an event showcasing para-sport thinking he would get involved with sledge hockey. But wheelchair basketball was the only sport playing a full game.

"So I sat and watched that for a while and then once the game was over Dave (Durepos) just kind of gave me his chair."

The Paralympic gold medallist became Hayward's mentor, teaching him the game and coaching him at the last Canada Games in Prince George, B.C.

Hayward has even gone on to compete with the national team. He's one of three players on the New Brunswick squad who are part of the national program.

Sport is growing

He said it points to the sport's growth in the area.

"It's huge, right. That's a little bit unheard of. So we're definitely growing. And it's exciting. Like we're super excited to go (to the Games)."

Adam Loo, the team's coach, agrees.

"This is one of the best tournaments for them to get to play in front of their peers, get to play with some of the best competition across Canada," he said.

Hayward believes the team will be a serious contender in the games.

"We're really convinced that we are going to do well. I'm just excited."

The team leaves on Thursday.