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Wheelchair basketball athletes from P.E.I. part of Team New Brunswick

Islanders Mara Duncan, left, Brandon Gillis and Juliet Trainor are Islanders playing wheelchair basketball for Team New Brunswick during the 2023 Canada Winter Games.  (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
Islanders Mara Duncan, left, Brandon Gillis and Juliet Trainor are Islanders playing wheelchair basketball for Team New Brunswick during the 2023 Canada Winter Games. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

Islanders Mara Duncan and Juliet Trainor are competing in wheelchair basketball at their first Canada Winter Games.

They're both 11, but playing with teammates and competitors in their mid-20s.

Duncan was asked to try the sport, and thought it might be something she'd enjoy.

"I don't like running a lot, and I like doing sports, but there's not that many sports without running. So when I decided I could sit down and play basketball, I thought that would help me a lot."

Dawn MacInnis
Dawn MacInnis

Trainor said she's not daunted by the physical intensity of the sport.

"I find it's very rough, but it's fun, and if you learn how to not fall then you should be okay throughout the whole game," she said.

Playing for Team New Brunswick

Duncan and Trainor — as well as 21-year-old Brandon Gillis from Indian River, P.E.I. — are playing for Team New Brunswick during the Games, because P.E.I. didn't have enough athletes to field its own team.

Combined teams from Atlantic Canada are not uncommon in Canada Games wheelchair basketball.

Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia also have a combined team at the Games, under the Team Newfoundland and Labrador banner.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

This is Gillis's third Canada Games, and his second time playing as a member of Team New Brunswick.

In 2015, he played on the combined P.E.I.-New Brunswick team under the Island's banner, and then under the New Brunswick banner in 2019.

'Anybody can play the game'

Adam Loo, an Islander, is coach of the New Brunswick team. He also coached the 2015 and 2019 teams.

He said many people don't realize wheelchair basketball can be played by people with or without a physical disability.

"Wheelchair basketball doesn't probably get the exposure that we know that other sports do. And that's one great thing about Canada Games ... you get lots of exposure, lots of people start to realize, 'Oh, anybody can play the game,'" he said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Loo said it can be challenging having a team made up of players from two provinces.

"Just getting the frequency and the practice and the repetitions is always the tough thing. And we're not playing actively in the league and hadn't been up to this point," he said.

"It comes down to numbers and we just don't have as many people playing on the East Coast as we've had in the past. We're slowly trying to build back up to what we had at one point."

It is pretty fun to watch the other teams play and also your teammates play because you get to learn. — Juliet Trainor 

Loo said a big highlight during the Games was when the New Brunswick team had a big win over Quebec.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"We faced Quebec so many times over my coaching and playing career and no team in the Maritimes have ever been able to beat them," he said.

"We wanted it and played a great game from start to finish and we're able to walk away with the win."

Loo is hoping for an all-Island Team P.E.I. for the next Canada Games, something he said every province wants.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"It's weird walking into opening ceremonies in P.E.I. wearing New Brunswick clothing. And you're saying hello to all the volunteers and people that you know and having to explain to everybody," he said.

"We have two athletes with us now are going to be of age again for the next Canada Games and our hope is that between now and then we can build another team."

Duncan said she's loved the experience, especially getting to hang out and meet new people.

"It is pretty fun to watch the other teams play and also your teammates play because you get to learn ... and the more you train, the more you can get on the court," Trainor said.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

Sean Liebich, program co-ordinator with Wheelchair Basketball Canada, said the organization wants to create space for everyone to play — regardless of the number of players in their home province.

"A bigger province like B.C. is able to compete every year, but the smaller provinces have a harder time fielding a full team that would be at this competitive level. So that's our goal is to support them and their pursuits of that."

"We hope that the P.E.I. athletes that see some of their fellow participants playing come out and try it next year and work towards the Canada Games in 2027," he said.