Aboriginal wheelchair champ inspires Iqaluit youth
“You just keep working hard and making small steps”
Kids from Iqaluit’s basketball association took turns trying out a sports wheelchair that belongs to four-time paralympian Richard “Bear” Peter inside the Nakasuk School gym Feb. 20.
Peter visited Iqaluit Feb. 20 and Feb. 21 as part of “Paralympics in the School” week.
That attempt to raise awareness about paralympians and sports sent paralympic athletes traveled to different regions in Canada to give speeches to kids and play sports with them.
“It’s been great. I always have a lot of fun sharing some of my stories, showing my medals,” said Peter of his visit to Iqaluit.
Peter enjoys showing off his sports wheelchair, which is wider and more stable than normal wheelchairs and perfect for indoor use and playing basketball.
“I always try and compare it to other sports: let’s say you’re a hand cyclist or a canoeist. You need a bike as equipment or you need a canoe, or a pair of skates,” he said. “When you go and play wheelchair basketball, you need a wheelchair.”
After trying out Peter’s chair, the kids played a game of basketball with him.
Kids in Iqaluit asked him many questions, from where he travels, to how he got injured and what his favorite memory is of his sports career.
Peter, originally from Duncan, B.C. is a member of the Cowichan Tribes of Vancouver Island.
He now lives in the city of Vancouver and played wheelchair basketball at the national level until last year.
Of course, “the biggest memory… is winning that first gold medal” Peter told the young Iqaluit players.
“That’s why I’m here, to give awareness and talk more about my travels, and also my sport,” he said.
Peter himself has come full circle when it comes to sports.
“Somebody helped me when I was younger to get involved in sports, so now I’d like to do the same,” he said.
Growing up in a small community, Peter was the only person in a wheelchair after a bus accident injured him when he was four.
“It was pretty eye-opening for me and my family, and also all the schools. It was a learning curve for everybody to try and make it wheelchair accessible,” Peter said.
Then, a basketball team came to his school when he was a teenager.
After that, Peter tried all kinds of sports.
“I tried tennis, I tried track and field, I tried hockey, any sport that I could, and basketball was the main one that I really enjoyed and it’s been great for me,” he said.
Peter said he had also always loved playing hockey, so he played the game with all of his friends and family when he was younger.
That’s how he realized he’d rather play team, rather than individual sports.
“I enjoy working with my teammates to get better and better,” Peter said.
While in Iqaluit, Peter encouraged kids to follow their dreams.
“At first when I started my basketball, I never thought I’d ever represent Canada, or win a gold medal. But once I realized that I could, I thought that’s one of the goals I could follow,” he said.
But that takes a lot of hard work.
“One thing I want to let everybody know is that once you get out there and find a sport, or an activity that you really enjoy, keep on working hard and hopefully one day you can achieve your goals too,” Peter told them.
Living in a small community can be daunting, he said.
“I was the same… whether its sports or going to school, if you just keep working hard and making small steps you can eventually make that big goal of wherever you want to go,” he said.
Peter said he wants to be a role model for aboriginal youth.
“It’s been a great honour for me, and I always know there is a youth need for role models. There’s always been a little bit of racism, a lot of roadblocks and a lot of barriers but with a lot of support… I was able to stick with it and stick with sports and reach the podium and come back with a gold medal,” he said.
His message to Iqaluit youth?
“If you’ve got a dream, to keep on working at it, and don’t let anything get in your way, and keep on going,” he said.
In 2000, Peter received the Tom Longboat National Award for Aboriginal Male Athlete of the Year.
Eight years later, he was named Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year.
By 2012, Peter had received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his athletic accomplishments.