Para Athletics: Great Athletes, Great People, Great Competition

Monday, May 16, 2022 | 4 minute read

By Lucas Costa

The Ontario ParaSport Games took place this past weekend in Mississauga, Ontario where over 500 para athletes from Ontario competed in more than 10 sports. These games began in 1975 in Cambridge, Ontario and are aimed at promoting awareness about para athletes and the exceptional skills and abilities they portray in their respective sports.

Part of Saturday’s schedule featured the Para Athletics events that occurred at St. Marcellinus Secondary School, where approximately 30 athletes in different disciplines showcased their skills and athletic abilities. These athletes ranged in ages from high school competitors to senior athletes, and everything in between. All the athletes were all smiles from cheek to cheek, with a very excited and optimistic attitude, giving their fullest efforts. Win or lose, these athletes must be very proud of themselves and how far they have come.

Among the athletes present were two of Ontario’s and Canada’s greatest para athletes, Renee Foessel and Austin Smeenk. Foessel is a F38 discus thrower, meaning that her coordination and movement are affected to a low degree, on either one side or the entire body. As such, she has to compensate for asymmetry and a slightly reduced coordination of muscle movement. Despite all that, she set the world record in the F38 discus with a throw of 37 metres, 83 centimetres in June 2021. Along with her world record, Foessel won the gold medal at the ParaPan Am Games in Toronto seven years ago. Although in the following years she finished just off the podium with fourth place finishes at the 2016 Paralympic Games and the 2017 IPC World Championships, she won the bronze medal at 2019 IPC World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, Renee is not just a discus champion as she has also competed in javelin and shot put, reaching the podium in both of those events at the 2015 ParaPan Am Games in Toronto.

Smeenk, on the other hand, competes in track events such as the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m. As a two-time Paralympian, he finished fifth in the 800m and seventh in the 100m at the most recent games in Tokyo. He also had near-podium finishes at the 2017 and 2019 IPC World Championships, where he finished in fourth and fifth place in numerous races. However, Austin found glory at the 2018 Swiss Grand Prix picking up a silver and bronze medal in the 100m and 200m respectively. Austin Smeenk is a T34 athlete meaning that his movement in his trunk and arms is minimally affected, whereas movement in his legs is affected to a high degree. He has competed worldwide in Australia, Switzerland, United States, Japan, Brazil and many other international destinations, and graciously attended the Ontario ParaSport Games to be a role model and inspiration to the next generation of Ontario Para Champions, and Canadian Paralympians.

Just like Smeenk being an inspirational figure, all the athletes took time during the lunch break to assist and motivate fellow paralyzed individuals in the Mississauga community to try many Para Athletics events. Amongst the many try-it events was seated discus throw. The seated discus throw is where the participant is seated and then tied to a platform where their dominant hand is throwing the disc while the other is holding a pole for stability. One individual that partook in the seated discus throw was especially excited for this opportunity since, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was unable to participate in many activities and unable to explore the wide range of para sports over the past two years. With events like the Ontario ParaSport Games happening again, individuals are once again given the opportunity to try para events like their favourite athletes and heroes. Most memorably, Austin Smeenk did a lap on the track with a young boy, named Noah, and warm-heartedly engaged in conversation with Noah about anything and everything, without a doubt, making the young boy’s day.

The event was clearly a blast for Austin, Noah and everyone present. Although the opportunity has passed to watch Ontario’s top para athletes at the Ontario ParaSport Games, in less than a month many of these athletes as well as other para athletes will be competing at the Ontario Para Athletics Championships on Saturday, June 11th at the Toronto Track and Field Centre. The day will commence at 9:50am with the 200m final and conclude around 5pm with the 1500m final, while featuring many other track and field events in between (the entire event schedule can be found here). There will be a spectacular awards ceremony at the conclusion of each event, where all the medalists will have a moment to shine and be praised for their tremendous effort at the event, but moreover, in the weeks, months and years leading up to June 11th. The event will coincide with the U20 and Open Championships that are occurring that same weekend, June 10 – 12 at the Toronto Track and Field Centre.

In addition to watching the top athletes in this province, spectators will have the opportunity to participate in similar try-it events, eat delicious food from food trucks present, and much more. The upcoming U20/Open/Para Championship is a great way to enjoy track and field with your family in a fun, enjoyable, and affordable way, while supporting local athletes in the greater community.

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