Published Friday, February 6, 2009
For Paul Gauthier the sport of Boccia is about more than competition. During the Beijing Paralympics, Paul’s fourth, he was reminded of the transformative power of sport when a nation not known for openly supporting their citizens with disabilities embraced, and cheered for, their paralympian athletes.
Paul’s journey started in 1990 when he switched sports from Motor Soccer to Boccia. Paul’s first thought while watching Boccia was “what a boring looking sport” but he decided to give it a try. Two years later Paul was on the provincial team and in another two years Paul was on the National team. While competing at the Nottingham games in England Paul “really started to fall in love with the sport because of the opportunity to travel and meet people.”
In 1996 Paul competed in his first Paralympics at Atlanta, Georgia where he “completely bombed” because he “was not prepared, and did not know the level of play until I got to the Paralympics.”
Over the next four years Paul dedicated himself to the sport and in 2000 at the Sydney, Australia Paralympics Paul won two bronzes. Paul says that when he “got the double bronze I wanted to show myself that I could go even higher than that.” Over the next four years Paul started to see a Sports Psychologist and a nutritionist and due to looking at his overall health he lost 100 pounds. His hard work was rewarded in Athens, Greece, where Paul won a Gold and a Bronze.
Boccia is a target sport. Paul, who has Cerebral Palsy, explains that he is “unable to throw so I use a ramp designed to my specifications so that the ball is propelled to where I am aiming. I have a sport assistant who helps move the ramp from side to side. I also have extensions that can be added to ramp to add extra speed.”
Paul’s dedication to Boccia has also brought him love. After the 2004 Paralympics Paul’s sport assistant was not able to continue and Paul borrowed a sport assistant, Sarah, from a fellow Boccia player for a competition in Montreal. Paul says “they say Montreal is the place to fall in love and that is what happened for Sarah and I.” They had a wonderful time competing together and “we carried on developing a really amazing relationship.” In July of 2008 Paul and Sarah wed.
In 2008 Paul went to the Beijing Paralympics and was reminded that winning is not everything. Paul was “personally disappointed that I didn’t medal in Beijing but I have taken a lot more from Beijing than any other Paralympics.” Paul was moved by how the “whole Paralympic movement made such an impact on a community like China.” For Paul, it was amazing to talk to people and to witness the emotion of the Chinese people when he talked about his life. Paul’s story was received with awe. Here was a man who traveled the world playing Boccia, who married his sport assistant, who has a foster child, who works full time, and who has a disability. For many in China this was “eye opening for them and it was so neat that my story could be shared and make such an impact.”
Paul has always known that sport can transform lives and change people’s perspectives but it was particularly during the Beijing Paralympics that he saw this in action. Paul is extremely proud that his life can serve to show others what life can be like with a disability. “My disability is not who I am, it really has allowed me to be able to carry on in life and to still live life to the fullest. I think I demonstrate that by what I have done in my life. Life is good.”