Feature     
 
Canada's Boccia Team at the Parthenon

Canada’s Boccia Team
at the Parthenon
(from left)
Jessica Peters,
Paul Gauthier,
Herb Torrance,
Alison Kabush
and Shannon Sydorak

photo: courtesy
Athens Tour Guide


International
Paralympic
Committee

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Canada's Boccia Team at the Parthenon

Gauthier receives his Gold on the podium in Athens


Gold for Gauthier!
Vancouver's Boccia Champ Shares Athens Experience

By Garry Angus


He champions boccia to all he meets, and in competition, is now champion at the highest level.

Paul Gauthier, 34, of Vancouver, beat out world champion Santiago Pesquera of Spain in the final boccia singles match on Sept. 26th at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. He became Canada's first gold medalist in the sport, winning the Country's first gold in Athens outside of swimming and athletics.

Boccia, a game that looks a lot like 'lawn bowling' but demands the skilled release of a 'crack' curler and the strategic mind of a master chess player, is a game Gauthier loves, and will soon tell you about, given the chance.

Gauthier, who has cerebral palsy and plays from his wheelchair, has been involved in the sport since he was 17. Like most Canadian kids, he played hockey as a youngster - and that particular West Coast passion, soccer, - but when he was introduced to boccia by a teenage friend, he found his perfect match and the journey to Paralympic gold began.

In Paralympic competition, boccia is an indoor game played in silence in singles or pairs by people with cerebral palsy, loco motor disabilities - all competitors using wheelchairs. Like any world-class sport, the game demands of its athletes visualization, physical technique, mental strategy, and plenty of commitment and preparation. Gauthier had the commitment, and soon moved up in his sport.

By age 23, Gauthier ranked high enough to join the national team. He was good enough to go to Atlanta for the 1996 Paralympics, and in the 2000 Sydney games won two bronze medals - one in individual competition; one in mixed pairs with boccia partner Alison Kabush of Surrey - making him the first Canadian boccia athlete to win two bronzes in the Paralympics.

But, taking stock of his accomplishments, he knew he needed to "up" his game for the gold.

Gauthier had always used his hands to release the boccia ball. In 2003 he contacted archery coach and metal fabricator Don Rittaler, who designed a specialized 'boccia chute' and 'helmet pointing-device' to increase the precision and accuracy of his aim and release.

Four months before leaving for Athens, Gauthier took stock of his equipment. He changed his boccia balls and had his boccia chute further modified for increased accuracy.

"I looked at the equipment I had, my boccia balls, my boccia chute," Gauthier says, "and I decided to make some changes. I totally changed my game, but felt something needed change to take me to the next level. I was stuck at the bronze level, which I was very happy with, of course, but I wanted to get to the next level."

With new equipment came new strategies and a new way to play the game.

"I don't think coaches would have recommended I make such a change three or four months before the (Athens) games, but I think my experience of the last 12 years helped me," he said.

Gauthier gives credit to Rittaler and to his care attendants for their help in allowing him to focus and keep motivated while he "upped" his game for Athens competition.

"I have some wonderful employers as well, who allowed me to take a couple of months off beforehand, which was so important to have, and the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities and the B.C. Paraplegic Association (and others) who have been so supportive," he said. "They understand this is something I have been working towards for a long time."

Gauthier arrived in Athens one week before the competition, and other than his shower chair taking a side-trip to Italy and returning three days later, was happy to report that travel to Greece was relatively smooth, with all of his team's equipment arriving safe and in one piece.

The results of his teams' commitment and Gauthier's radical game change paid off. First with the gold on Sept. 26th, then the bronze in mixed pairs on Sept. 28th with doubles partner Kabush.

"Coach Rittaler said to us, 'You're going to Athens to go pick up your medals,' and that's the attitude that we were to have.

"For me to be able to give back to my country," says Gauthier, "for me to be able to come back with the gold, have the national anthem being played in front of my friends, it was amazing! The bronze, too, with Alison; absolutely [amazing]!"

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