If you can’t find stories that move and inspire in Para sports, you’re not looking hard enough. They are woven into the very fabric of the movement. Five Island athletes are looking to launch from the 2023 Para Pan Am Games, beginning Friday in Santiago, into the 2024 Paralymics next summer.
Mel Pemble of Victoria, on her way to becoming a rare Summer and Winter Paralympian, will compete in cycling in the Chilean capital after representing Canada in skiing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics.
“This is so surreal,” Pemble has said, of her rise on the bike after excelling on the slopes of Mount Washington.
She won the women’s C3 scratch race at the 2022 UCI Para-cycling track world championships and also set a world record in the C3 omnium 200-metre sprint. Perhaps as a harbinger, those world championship achievements occurred on the Vélodrome National de St-Quentin-en-Yvelines, which will host the track cycling events of the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics.
Pemble was born with cerebral palsy and immigrated to Victoria from Lancashire, England, in 2009. Her family looked for a sport for her to pursue and began skiing on Mount Washington, where Pemble admitted to being terrified the first time she looked down the slopes. She overcame that hesitancy to win two gold medals in the B.C. Winter Games and then two medals as a 14-year-old in the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George. She became a Paralympian three years later as a teen and represented Canada in five events at Pyeongchang with two top-10 finishes.
Pemble was introduced to cycling through an RBC Training Ground search at PISE, where she was tagged as a potential multi-sport athlete and began on the bike at the Commonwealth Games velodrome in Colwood, which has produced the likes of 2012 London Olympics-medallist Gillian Carleton, Tokyo Olympics cyclist and Commonwealth Games medallist Jay Lamoureux and Pan Am Games-medallists Evan Carey and Erin Attwell and Sarah Van Dam, the latter Paris 2024 Olympic hopefuls.
Meanwhile, Victoria runner Liam Stanley will go for gold in the Para Pan Am Games ambulatory 1,500 and 800 metres in Santiago after winning 1,500 silver at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and placing fifth in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics behind fellow-Victorian and gold-medallist Nate Riech. Stanley won silver and bronze at the last Para Pan Am Games in 2019 at Lima, Peru.
Stanley, the 2014 Canadian para soccer player of the year, had a stroke at birth which rendered the right side of his body partially paralyzed. He was told he might never walk. Instead, he ran everywhere, from soccer pitches to the track. Stanley played in able-bodied sports and two Colonist Cup finals and won three B.C. single-A high school championships with Glenlyon Norfolk School in soccer. He also played on the GNS basketball team and ran able-bodied track for the Gryphons.
Dad Frank Stanley once recalled hearing “thump, thump, thump” in the wee hours: “That was Liam in the garage getting his touches in [on the soccer ball] before anybody else was up.”
That dedication and drive has now led to Santiago and likely Paris next summer.
Also running ambulatory track in Santiago will be 2019 Lima Para Pan Ams veteran Michael Barber of Victoria, a graduate of St. Michaels University School, whose father and coach Gary Barber represented Canada in the Commonwealth Games.
Canadian wheelchair rugby captain Trevor Hirschfield of Parksville is still rolling strong at age 40 into Santiago and has competed in the 2008 Beijing, 2012 London, 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Paralympics with silver and bronze medals. The former Oceanside hockey player and BCHL Junior A prospect with the Cowichan Valley Capitals, before a van accident in 2000 while visiting his grandparents in Sicamous left him paraplegic, also has gold and silver from the 2015 Toronto and 2019 Lima Para Pan Am Games. Byron Green of Victoria is also on the Canadian wheelchair rugby team.
A team of 140 athletes, including competition partners, will represent Canada at the Para Pan Am Games with 70 coaches and staff supporting them in Santiago.
Para-cyclist Shelley Gautier of Niagara Falls, Ont., and wheelchair tennis player Rob Shaw of North Bay, Ont., were chosen as the Canadian flagbearers for the opening ceremony Friday.