Ottawa athlete shares his sport ahead of Paralympic Games debut

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Ottawa athlete shares his sport ahead of Paralympic Games debut

The crash that took away the use of Tyrone Henry's legs also sparked his Olympic dreams — dreams he's eager to share with others.

In 2010, Henry was involved in a car crash. As he lay in the intensive care unit, one of the first things he told his father was that he would one day become a Paralympian.

Next month, that dream comes true.

Henry has been training with Team Canada's Paralympic ice hockey — or sledge hockey — team. Earlier this month, after a series of exhibition games against the United States, he was chosen to represent the country in Pyeongchang.

"I was like 'wow' I can't believe this is happening right now. It was unreal. I immediately thought of all the people that have helped me out to get to this point," said an ecstatic Henry. "I'm just feeling immense pride at being able to do it."

Paralympic fan before acquiring disability

Henry was an able-bodied hockey player for most of his life, but before his injury he was in love with the Paralympics and sledge hockey. His father remembers trying to pry him from the television screen during the coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games. The young athlete credits that exposure with giving him hope during a difficult time.

"I think it just speaks to the coverage the Vancouver Olympics had ... I was able to think about that and get into a sport that changed my life forever," Henry said.

His father, Andrew Henry, recalls being surprised by his son's resilience in hospital.

"He's laying on his back and staring at the ceiling, thinking about life I guess and 'what happens now' so it's quiet for many minutes and then finally he opens his mouth and he says 'well, I knew I was never going to play for the men's Olympic hockey team, so I'm going to play for the men's sledge hockey team," said the senior Henry. "He set his goal right there. He was going to get in the game rather than sit on the sidelines. That's what he did and he's worked at it ever since."

Next month, he will be playing alongside some of the same players he looked up to during his first exposure to the sport in the Vancouver 2010 games.

"Being able to realize that dream's just crazy!"

Spreading his love of the sport

Before he leaves for South Korea, he's hoping to inspire the next generation of athletes with his story.

This week, he partnered up with the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario's Ottawa Children's Treatment Centre, to give young people with disabilities a chance to try out the sport.

"You're kind of equal on the ice. It's a freeing experience …sometimes you're better than the people who can don't feel disabled, it's a tool to be free," said Henry.

Young players on the ice say hearing about Henry's story has broadened the scope of their own dreams.

"I look at him and see a person I can become. I believe I can do it, and I'll do whatever I can to accomplish it," said Ryker Jeffrey, one of Henry's admirers at the Jim Durrell Arena. "I want to be on the Paralympic team and win gold."

CHEO recreational therapist Emily Glossop said she's seen that journey from start to finish. After introducing some of her clients to the sport, they've gone on to play at elite levels, including the Paralympic games. She's had the honour of sitting rink-side to watch them fulfil their dreams.

"I have seen it happen. It's a pretty amazing experience to watch somebody through a journey where they had a goal and they attain and reach that goal," she said.

Henry won gold with Team Canada at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships. He's hoping to do the same in Pyeongchang next month.

"The dream is to be there, but the dream is also to win a gold medal for Canada," said Henry. "I really want to realize that and bring the gold back home to the community and share it with everyone."