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An Inclusive Society, as Seen by Patrick Anderson and Miki Matheson (Part I)

The goal of the Paralympic Games is the realization of an inclusive society. Despite “only” being a sports tournament, the Paralympics has the potential to revolutionize Japanese society in terms of inclusivity. Now, less than two years away from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, what are the things we should know, and what are the things we should think about? We asked these two gold medalists, both with connections to Canada, what they thought*.

Patrick Anderson, wheelchair basketball player

Patrick Anderson | Gold Medalist, Wheelchair Basketball
Born in Canada. Was involved in a car accident when he was nine years old, which led to both legs being amputated below the knee. Discovered wheelchair basketball the following year, and quickly showed a talent for the sport. Became a member of the Canadian National Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team for the first time in 1997, leading the team as a star player to gold medals in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004), and London (2012), as well as a silver medal in Beijing (2008). Left the Canadian national team twice, following Beijing and London, but returned to the team with the goal of playing in the Tokyo Paralympics.

Miki Matheson | Gold Medalist, Ice Sledge Speed Racing
Born in Tokyo. Was involved in a car accident during university that left her with a spinal cord injury. Discovered ice sledge speed racing, and went on to win three gold medals and a silver medal at the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Winter Games. Later married a Canadian ice sledge hockey (now known as “para ice hockey”) player. Since 2016, has served as Project Manager of the Promotion & Strategy Department, at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center. Has played a central role in the development of the Japanese version of “I’mPOSSIBLE,” an educational program authorized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and also serves as a member of the Education Committee for the IPC and IOC. Currently lives in Canada.

Regaining Their Sense of Self Through Sports

Patrick Anderson and Miki Matheson were both involved in car accidents that left them in wheelchairs. They both said at first that they were in shock, that it was hard to keep from feeling down, but that their respective sports helped pull them out of their funk.

The two Paralympians, both with connections to Canada, spoke about their experiences

Patrick Anderson (hereafter, “Anderson”): I was nine years old when I was in the car accident. Before that, I’d loved sports and music, and was really into ice hockey and piano. But when both my legs were amputated, I had to give up hockey. I also had to transfer to a school in the next town over that was open to kids in wheelchairs. When I went back to school six weeks after the accident, my prosthetics weren’t done yet, so I had to go in my wheelchair. And even though this school was technically open to those in wheelchairs, there were still limitations as to where I could go in the school, and I always ended up needing help from others. I wanted to do everything on my own, but I couldn’t—it was literally impossible. I hated it, and I remember thinking, “Don’t come near me, don’t look at me, don’t talk to me,” and just trying as hard as I could not to stand out.

This all changed when I discovered wheelchair basketball. It wasn’t long before I started playing better than the other players, and people started to respect me for it. Since that time, I’ve put everything I have into the sport, just trying to be a good player. It was amazing to be able to play sports again, and it led me to pull myself out of my funk, and live confidently in my own skin.

Miki Matheson, who works to advance the Paralympic Movement through education

Miki Matheson (hereafter, “Matheson”): It was exactly 25 years ago that I started living in a wheelchair. I’d been studying to be a P.E. teacher at university and was involved in a car accident that left me with massive injuries, including an injured spinal cord and a depressed skull fracture. I was unconscious, and in critical condition. I remember how upset I was when I woke up and was told I wouldn’t be able to move my legs anymore. I was more upset about not being able to play sports anymore—at the time, I didn’t know about the Paralympics or that you could play sports in a wheelchair—than about not being able to walk. That was how important sports were to me.
When I started going around on a wheelchair, I noticed people looking at me with pity, treating me like I was damaged goods, telling me “You’re doing so well” when I’d just be sitting there. It felt strange and uncomfortable. I was the same person, just in a wheelchair, and yet everybody was treating me differently. I hated it. And that’s when I came across something amazing—a group of people playing basketball in wheelchairs in the hospital gymnasium. I remember being in awe at how amazing they were, how fast and talented. And then it hit me—that people with disabilities could play sports, and that maybe if I could get back into sports, I could be good at it. That realization was the turning point for me, and when I really began to change.

Although it was a weekday, many people attended the panel

* This article was built off of the “Inclusion and Beyond: Para-sports Athletes’ Perspectives” panel held at the Embassy of Canada to Japan in Tokyo on October 17.

text by TEAM A
photo by X-1

Next >>> An Inclusive Society, as Seen by Patrick Anderson and Miki Matheson (Part II)

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