Gold-medal Paralympian looking forward to Ontario Winter Games

This is the first of a three-part series of profiles of Ottawa Valley residents who have competed in past Ontario Winter Games.

Arnprior -- Todd Nicholson was just like any other typical teenage boy growing up on a farm in Kinburn. He and his three brothers worked the 200-acre cattle farm along with their parents. His dad was also a Hydro One employee, but he always found time to make sure his sons were also involved in various organized sports such as hockey and basketball.

He enjoyed all the typical things an 18-year-old would while completing his senior year at Arnprior District High School. Along the way he participated in the Ontario Winter Games as part of the local basketball team.

He was on his way to his senior prom dance on the evening of December 18, 1987 when his life was changed forever. He was involved in a car crash that resulted in paraplegia. Mr. Nicholson may have lost the use of his legs, but he never lost the desire to make the best of a bad situation. He spent the next few months away from his family in Ottawa and while there he was introduced to Paralympic sports during his stay at the Royal Ottawa Rehabilitation Center.

He spent months in rehabilitation in Ottawa and while enduring hours of rehab, he became involved in para basketball. Within a year he was competing in Hull at the Canadian Winter Games.

“There is no doubt growing up in the Ottawa Valley and being involved in organized sports certainly helped me in my rehab,” he said. “I actually played basketball in the Ontario Winter Games and that gave me a bit of a competitive edge when I started to play para-basketball and although I may have been younger than some of the other players, I learned how to compete in an organized sport in a whole new way.”

That introduction to para-basketball soon blazed the way for him to become one of Canada’s most successful para-Olympian athletes.

For over a quarter of a century, he represented Canada on the international stage as a member of Canada’s National Sledge Team and a number of other summer sports. Between 1994 and 2010, Mr. Nicholson competed in sledge hockey at five Paralympic Winter Games, winning bronze, silver and gold medals. Team captain for 15 years, he was named to the Paralympic All-Star Team in 1998 and 2002.

One of the highlights of his career was being named Canada’s official flag bearer at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.

“That was a highlight and it shows that anything is possible,” he said. “When I first competed in the Paralympic games the equipment was so heavy and bulky it was tough. Today, the equipment is so much more advanced and it opens up doors to young people who want to take part in the sport. Having sledge hockey as part of the Ontario Winter Games is something everyone should try and get out to see.”

In 2010, Mr. Nicholson retired from competition, but not from his commitment as a volunteer to sport and the Paralympic movement. From 2013 until April 2017, he served as chair for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes’ Council and as such, was a Governing Board member for the International Paralympic Committee.

He also served as the IPC Athlete Representative to the International Olympic Committee and has direct hands-on experience planning and administering the Games (Olympic and Paralympic) in London (2012), Sochi (2014), Rio de Janeiro (2016) and PyeongChang (2018).

On January 24, 2017, Mr. Nicholson was named Team Canada’s Chef de Mission for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

Although he has officially retired from competitive sports, he remains a strong advocate for amateur sports for all youth, with or without a disability. His retirement has also allowed him to spend more time with his wife and two children, and to watch his children compete in organized sports.

“Moving to Arnprior and being back in the Valley has allowed me to go see all the arenas and one thing that remains true to this day is just how cold some of those rinks still are,” he said with a big laugh. “My wife was amazed at the number of rinks and arenas there are in the Valley and it reminds me of my youth playing until all hours of the night.”

Mr. Nicholson and his wife, Emily Glossop, an equally committed advocate on behalf of children and youth with disabilities, devote their ‘free’ time and energies left over from raising their twins who were born in 2009, to building Ottawa’s Abilities Centre. The vision is modelled after the success of Whitby’s remarkable 125,000-square foot recreational facility designed, administered and staffed to create a fully inclusive recreational facility for people of all abilities.

In his day job, he works at the Canada Border Services Agency, which now benefits from his experience as an athlete with the knowledge necessary to plan for and manage major events in Canada. In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Citation for Meritorious Service, an award that is nominated by the president only.

He is thrilled the Ontario Winter Games are being held in Renfrew County and he said two things make a successful game: the athletes and the volunteers. Although he had prior commitments and could not have a direct involvement in the 2023 Games, he has been in contact with the organizing committee and provided advice and contacts for the sledge-hockey portion.

“I know from experience if the games are organized with a solid volunteer base, then they will be successful,” he said. “Renfrew County has a strong history of volunteers showing up to make any event successful. I encourage everyone to get involved in some way. You never know, but there may be a few Valley athletes out there who will use these games as a springboard to the national or international stage.”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader