As a member of the Canadian National Sledge Hockey Team since 1999, Bradley Bowden is one of the builders of the sport. A highly accomplished two-sport star, he was named Athlete of the Year by the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association in 2006. Born with sacral agenesis (a deformity of the spine), Bowden’s determination makes him a sporting inspiration.
When asked if he sees himself as a leader, Bowden was quick to acknowledge the contributions of other teammates as well. “I see myself as a leader, but there are so many guys on the team that have been around for awhile. There are a bunch of leaders. Greg Westlake, Murray, Adam Dixon, Benoit St. Amand. They have been around, seen the ups and downs, and have lots of experience.”
While there are many great rivals in sledge hockey, the rivalry with the United States is the most visceral. “It is the biggest one, pretty much. Our best games are against them, they are usually hard fought games.”
In many ways, Bowden and teammate Billy Bridges are kindred spirits. Like Bowden, Bridges is also a multi-sport star, and their roots in sledge hockey run parallel to each other. “I used to play wheelchair basketball with Billy. We both got involved with sledge hockey at the same time in Kitchener. (The two competed with the Kitchener Sidewinders). My grandma would drive us together to play hockey. We found out about the national program and tried out at the same time. Everything else is history.”
His proficiency in basketball has led to a storied career on the hardwood filled with numerous accolades. “I played in a league in the States. I also competed for Canada at the Paralympic Summer Games in Athens where we won gold.”
“The league was the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. I started in Michigan and then I went to Orlando. In the States, it was huge. Many players could get scholarships. I got to play with competitors from the US National Team, it was fun. I would have liked to have tried Europe but I had my obligations with sledge hockey.”
“There were also a few Canadians in the league. Everyone on the Canadian National Team was involved. Our coaches wanted to ensure that we compete at an elite level.”
Despite a remarkable career, Bowden’s career was nearly sidelined after a thumb injury. The ability to recover and compete at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino is testament to Bowden’s dogged determination. “Torino was a dream come true. I was supposed to go to Salt Lake City. I almost lost my thumb in the game to Norway. Torino should have been my second Paralympics, instead of my first one. With my thumb, I felt like giving up a few times and I worried about getting injured. I take the positives and it was a better experience. I became a better player. ”
Playing on a line with Billy Bridges and Greg Westlake, there was a sense of brotherhood at the Torino Paralympic Winter Games in 2006. “It was a storybook ending. I scored the game winning goal to clinch the gold medal. There was a nice pass and I set up Greg for a goal (in Torino). It was the best feeling in the world. Billy, Greg and I all scored in that game. At the time, all of us were on the same line. It was a great feeling.”
Having won gold at both the Summer and Winter Paralympics, Bowden has accomplished a rare feat. It makes him as elite a Canadian athlete as Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen (who have also competed in Summer and Winter Olympics).
Despite the double gold, Bowden reflects on it with great humility, “The double gold, it is kind of hard to say if it was my proudest accomplishment. It was something that I was a part of and I am grateful for the experience. I am more of a hockey player but I do not want to take away from those other experiences. My grandparents are more proud of that (double gold) than I am.”
For Bowden, the Paralympic comeback at Torino is one that he will cherish for a lifetime. “Being able to contribute to your team and be successful in winning a gold medal is a big deal. At Torino, I actually got to take the bull by the horns and it was a great feeling.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”