It has been a big summer so far for Canadian Boccia Player Paul
By Rachal Fleury
The Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games will be extra special for reigning Paralympic BC3 boccia champion Paul Gauthier, as he’ll have two new family members at his side – wife Sarah and foster son Derek.
“For me it makes (the Games) even more inspiring having my family near,” Gauthier said. “It is really exciting to be experiencing it with the ones I love.”
Beijing will be Gauthier’s fourth Paralympic Games.
Heading into Beijing, Gauthier is ranked second in the world in individual play. His Paralympic resume includes a gold medal in the individual and bronze medal in pairs in Athens, bronze in both individual and pairs in Sydney and a twelfth place in individual and fifth place in pairs in Atlanta. In Beijing, he is aiming for gold in both individual and pairs.
“I’m feeling really ready,” Gauthier said, who lives and trains in B.C. “Our whole team is coming together so well.”
A new family
Gauthier and his wife Sarah (who is also his sport assistant) married last month on Vancouver Island in a “beautiful and intimate” ceremony. When Gauthier speaks about their union, his excitement is almost tangible.
“We work together so well in both our personal lives and professional lives,” he said. “I’m so happy! What a year for us!”
Also bringing happiness to Gauthier’s life is his foster son Derek.
Four years ago, Gauthier, who grew up in foster care, became the foster father of 11-year-old Derek, the son of one of his foster sisters. Derek came to Gauthier completely mute as the result of an anxiety disorder – he made no eye contact and had no verbal communication skills.
Now 15, thanks to the dedication and commitment of Gauthier and Sarah, Derek is making eye contact, is able to write and is communicating verbally. Derek is thrilled to be going to Beijing and for the past several months has been studying the Paralympic Movement and constantly impressing Gauthier and Sarah with Paralympic facts.
“I’m excited that Derek is getting a chance to see the world,” said Gauthier of bringing him to Beijing. “For him to take such an interest (in the Paralympics) is really inspiring.”
Also accompanying the Gauthier crew to Beijing are Sarah’s mom and Gauthier’s close friend Joseph.
Gauthier’s Paralympic future
So, will there be a fifth Paralympic Games for Gauthier?
“That’s the million dollar question,” he laughed. “I haven’t made my mind up yet. I’ll see how I do in this performance. I would like to see double gold out of this one and then we’ll make some decisions.”
Yet, while Gauthier says he is undecided, to hear him talk about sport and the Paralympic Games makes it hard to believe that he won’t compete in London in 2012.
“I love the competition; I love the sport; I love meeting people from all over the world,” he said. “To be an elite athlete and know you are representing your country is amazing. This being my fourth time is just as special as it was all of the other times. It still makes me tingle to come out in front of 80,000 people in the Canadian uniform (during the opening ceremonies).”
Boccia is unique to the Paralympic Games and is played by wheelchair athletes with severe cerebral palsy and related neurological disorders. The sport is a test of muscle control and accuracy, demanding extreme skill and concentration at the highest level.
Boccia is played on a long, narrow court by individuals, pairs and teams. The goal is to throw or bowl a ball so that it lands as close as possible to the target ball, called a 'jack'. At the end of every round, the competitor whose ball is closest to the jack scores one point for every ball that is closer than his opponent's. A game consists of four ends in individual and pairs competitions; there are six ends in team events.
Ultimately, it may not be Gauthier himself who has the final say in whether he retires or not. He’s getting a lot of pressure from Derek to stay in sport not only for a fifth Paralympics, but for a sixth.
“He says I can’t retire because he wants to be my sport assistant in eight years,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier balances sport and family with an important work role with the B.C. Paraplegic Association, as its community capacity coordinator. He works with other community organizations, individuals and government to improve policies and address issues that affect people with disabilities. In the past he ran a consulting company that helped people with disabilities make the transition to independent living arrangements. He enjoys his new role, because he is able to make change on a larger scale and affect more people’s lives.
Gauthier is grateful to the B.C. Paraplegic Association who has been very supportive of his Paralympic endeavors – giving him the time that he needs to train, to travel and to compete.