For the third time in as many games, Elmira’s Katie Harnock will be representing Canada at the Summer Paralympics.
Held every four years in the weeks after the Summer Olympics, the Paralympic Games are a multi-sport event that celebrates the adversity and diversity of athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities.
Harnock will be playing for Team Canada on the wheelchair basketball team. She has played on the national team in both London in 2012, and in Beijing in 2008. When she found out she would be heading back to the international competition, this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she says she was ecstatic.
“It felt fantastic. We had a prolonged selection process this year due to shifting criteria, so normally we find out a bit sooner than this, so I think a few people were just waiting for things to be finalized and get that we were going in writing and the teams finally picked,” she said of the process. “It is going to my third time and it is going to be amazing.”
In preparation for the games, Harnock says she and her teammates are spending almost all of their time on the court, trying to get that much better and ready to face teams from around the world. The team just returned from a tournament in Denver, and after the break, will be back in training.
“It is busy. We have a couple of days off right now, but then we are back training two or three times a day, all of us. This is sort of the final stretch to get us over the line for late-August. We have another European trip where we are going to play against some good teams. We are very busy right now, but the closer you get to the games, the more exciting it becomes.”
Having been to the games and seeing all the pomp and circumstance around opening ceremonies and game play, Harnock says she knows what she and her teammates are getting into when they arrive in Rio in September. Some of the first time attendees may be overwhelmed, however.
“It is such an immense spectacle and it is completely unlike anything that we normally get to do. It helps, for me and a few of us who have been before, to know what to expect. We are doing our best,” she said. “It is difficult to explain it to some of the newer players. It is really something that you have to kind of go through to really understand. Going to the opening ceremonies, when you walk out, and there are 70,000 people. That is just something that not many people really get to experience, and even in the games. We will be playing in front of many more people than what we are used to, so just things like that.”
Even though she is representing the whole country while in Rio, Harnock says she will be carrying the well-wishes of those in Elmira with her to Brazil. The support she receives from her hometown is overwhelming, she says, and even a bit unexpected.
“Elmira has been great to me since before I even played top level basketball. I train predominantly in Scarborough right now – they have a big facility there for us – but whenever I come back, to go to the grocery store or something, five or six people always stop me and ask me how things are going and how the training for Rio is going and things like that, so even with just our games and our competitions, I am always surprised at how many people are following along,” she said. “You get kind of lost in the competing and the training and working, you don’t really know that people are actually watching and eagerly awaiting what is going to happen. There is a huge amount of pride coming from a community when they know that they have sent an athlete to something like this.”
And advice for kids who want to make it to the big leagues? Just keep playing.
“You sort of get the impression that kids think that it is really an immense and impossible thing that they can’t really reach. I think that they forget that when I first started I wasn’t that good. I wasn’t thinking about being on the national team one day and do all these things that I have been very fortunate to be able to do,” she said. “I just love playing, and you can see where it took me. I think that for kids today, It is just really understanding that it always starts just by playing. Enjoying it and going out and having fun. I used to play for hours in the driveway with my family and my friends and things like that. It doesn’t start as the big picture it is now.”
The Summer Paralympic Games start with opening ceremonies on Sept. 7, and run for 11 days. To follow along, visit the Paralympics site at www.rio2016.com/en/paralympics.