Canada’s Boccia Team
at the Parthenon
and Shannon Sydorak
Athens Tour Guide
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
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
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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