As a Paralympic Champion in both sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball, Brad Bowden has been a key player in shaping Canada’s Paralympic success. In addition to being named assistant captain of the national sledge hockey team, his leadership extends beyond the ice as athlete rep for the sport.
“I just do what needs to be done both on and off the ice as a leader. I try to lead by example and hope my teammates will follow suit”, says Brad, “some of which includes training and grabbing opportunities when they arise”.
Brad was born in Mississauga, ON with Sacaral Agenesis, a rare congenital condition of spinal deformity affecting the sacrum – the caudal partition of the spinewhich affects Brad in a similar way to Spina Bifida. He believes that he was fortunate enough to grow up in a small town where he was not faced with too many challenges regarding his disability.
“Any athlete that is born with a disability faces adversity every day of their life and they learn how to deal with anything that is thrown at them”, explains Brad. “Playing sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball and meeting other people going through a similar experience made me realize no matter how bad you have it, there are others that have it worse”, he adds.
Brad was raised by his grandparents who were more interested in getting him out of the house and away from video games than anything else. Sports were not a major focus in his family; however his grandmother thought it would be good for him to be involved in some kind of physical activity. Brad was always obsessed with hockey so his grandmother figured the best thing would be to get him to a rink. It was the perfect fit. “I have always been a huge fan of hockey and basketball, and I have always been active”, says Brad.
He was first introduced to the sport of wheelchair basketball in 1994 by a man who coached a local wheelchair basketball team in Kitchener, Waterloo. He started playing sledge hockey shortly after. At first, Brad played wheelchair basketball for fun, however, when he won a tournament and was named “Rookie of the Year”, he realized that the possibilities for him in sport were endless. Brad joined the national wheelchair basketball team in 2003 and won his first Paralympic gold medal at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games. The team then went on to win the 2006 World Championships in Amsterdam.
After playing sledge hockey at the local level for several years, Brad joined the national team in 1999 and won his first World Championships in 2000. After many changes to the roster and coaching staff, and finishing a disappointing 4th at the 2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Games, the team persevered to win gold at the 2006 Paralympic Games in Turin, Italy. This is where Brad had the honour and privilege of scoring the game winning goal against Norway. After winning the 2008 World Championships in Boston, the Canadian sledge hockey team has high hopes for a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.
Off the court and the ice, Brad was ‘thrown’ into his first athlete leadership experience when he attended the 2006 AthletesCAN Forum in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on behalf of his sport as a replacement for the then current athlete rep who was unable to attend. “I always admired the leaders in our sport, like Pat Anderson, and I eventually grew into the position of leader myself”, says Brad.
Brad was elected athlete rep by his sledge hockey teammates in 2008. “I was honoured that they wanted me to represent our sport”, says Brad. The coaching staff assigned him the position of assistant captain the same year.
When asked about his first Forum experience in 2006, Brad says, “It opened up my mind to realize what others are dealing with outside of sledge hockey. Usually you just think about your own sport and its problems and all of a sudden I was in a room full of athletes and hearing about all the issues they faced in their sports. It was quite an experience and it really opened up my eyes!” He hopes to attend more AthletesCAN Forums in the future.
Even though he is still very young, Brad continues to take on more leadership responsibilities and works diligently to promote the sport. He believes in leading by example and feels fortunate that he is one of the players who can make things happen on and off the ice, especially while the team is facing a challenge.
Brad has no difficulty balancing training, competition, and his athlete leadership endeavours. He is currently attending Georgian College in Barrie, ON, and is taking art fundamentals courses in hopes of pursuing media arts or film in the future. He lives with some of his teammates who also attend the same college. Although Brad did not make the senior national wheelchair basketball team this year, he sees it as a positive change allowing him to fully focus on sledge hockey, school and giving back to the community.
Back home, Brad enjoys revisiting his elementary and high schools to inspire students with his motivational stories. “I love volunteering my time and going to my old public school to speak and help out with special events”, he says, “I get such a feeling of pride and accomplishment when I walk back into my school and see the faces of all of the students staring back at me. I can totally relate to them, and I feel like I am giving them something real and useful when I share my experiences”.
Local Orangeville summer sports camps have also had the opportunity to welcome Brad back to hear his inspirational stories. “The summer camps are great and I really enjoy giving back close to home. I think it’s important for kids to learn that just because you come from a small town, it doesn’t mean you can’t go out into the world and do big things and achieve your dreams”, states Brad.
When asked what he felt was most important to him as an athlete leader, Brad revealed that sharing his experiences in sport and the lessons he has learned with as many people as possible and knowing that one person can have a positive impact on many people’s lives is the most powerful tool and belief an athlete leader can have.
Brad doesn’t want to look too far ahead to the 2010 Paralympics as the sledge hockey team has a World Championships in May of 2009 that will require their complete focus and dedication. However, he does reveal that his goals for the 2010 Paralympic Games are to win gold; to make a good impression on home ice; and to demonstrate Canadian sledge hockey at it’s finest. “I want to look at it like it’s the biggest opportunity of my life. I am so lucky because not a lot of people get to play for their country at the national level”, he says. Brad wants to be able to look back on the experience and know he played his absolute best.
Published – February 2009