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National wheelchair rugby team ready for Rio

Paralympic team puts in final preparations at Pacific Institute of Sports Excellence
Jacob Zinn/News Staff - Zak Madell tries to manoeuvre around Pat
Zak Madell (right) tries to manoeuvre around Patrice Dagenais at PISE in Team Canada’s wheelchair rugby practice on Monday.

It’s crunch time for Canada’s Paralympic athletes, and the national wheelchair rugby team got some last-minute practice in Monday at Camosun’s Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence before heading to Rio in a few weeks.

Currently ranked fourth in the world, the team has been preparing through intense training camps in pursuit of gold in Brazil. Team Canada won silver at the last Summer Games in London and qualified for Rio with a come-from-behind, first place finish at last year’s Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

“We’re just trying to iron out all the kinks and figure out all our strategies leading into the Games,” said Zak Madell. “It’s a last-minute push, and by this point, pretty much all of our physical training and our conditioning has been done. We’re just going to be tapering after that, leading up to the games, and focusing on more tactical things.”

Miranda Biletski, who lives in Victoria and trains at PISE with teammates Madell and Travis Murao, said there’s a general feeling of excitement among the team, amplified by the inspiring performances thus far by Canada’s Olympians.

“At first, it was like preparing for a regular tournament, and then we started seeing our Canadian athletes doing so well at the Olympics,” she said. “That’s kind of gotten us really excited – we’re all a little antsy to get out there. It’s awesome to see other Canadians doing well.”

Wheelchair rugby, sometimes referred to as murderball, is played on a basketball court, with the aim of carrying the ball across the opponent’s goal line. Because of its high-contact nature, the athletes use more heavy-duty wheelchairs that can withstand more impact.

“The chairs are very well made,” said Madell. “They’re meant to be high-performance chairs. They can take a beating.”

The team is going to take the next few weeks to fine-tune their strategies before flying to Rio, where they are slated to face Brazil on Sept. 14, Great Britain on Sept. 15 and Australia on Sept. 16. Semifinals are scheduled for Sept. 17, with the finals set for Sept. 18.

With a second place finish last time around, the team is eager to showcase their hard work in Rio in hopes of bringing gold back to Canada.

“The fitness is there, all the training’s been there, now it’s just going over our scouting reports for other teams and being prepared for everything they’re going to throw at us,” said Biletski.

“It’s going to take us doing all of the little things right, fighting for every inch,” said Murao. “It’s a clichéd answer, but it’s true – it’s going to take no mental mistakes, focus, and just fighting hard out there.”