Ice hockey. Most Canadians, to some extent, love the game and play a role in it.
For Greg Westlake, that role is the Captain of Team Canada’s ice sledge hockey team. He has found his niche in hockey. “Everybody has the stuff they love to do. I think they have a few things they’re meant to do. Since I was a little kid hockey is the only thing I wanted to be involved in. If I wasn’t playing I still think I’d be involved in some capacity,” he said.
Sledge hockey is a relatively new sport. It was first played in Paralympic competition at the 1994 Winter Olympic games in Lillehammer, Norway. Westlake explains sledge hockey to those who are unfamiliar with it as the Paralympic version of ice hockey. “It’s played with the same rules. It’s a full contact sport. It’s not just a charity thing, it’s something I take seriously and the athletes that compete in it are serious about it. It’s a cutthroat, tough sport. I tell people when they see a game the sleds disappear and you’re just watching a hockey game. It’s hockey just with a different skill set,” he said.
At just 18 months, Westlake had both his legs amputated. “When I was born my feet had a deformity and were never going to be fully functional, so they amputated,” said the 26-year-old. “The technical term for me would be congenital bilateral below knee amputee.”
Westlake got involved in sledge hockey when he was 17 years old. “I found out and I just wanted the opportunity to see if I was any good at it. I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said.
Westlake has been to the Winter Paralympic Games twice, winning gold in 2006 in Torino and coming in fourth place in 2010 in Vancouver. Being on a team has helped shaped him to be the man he is today. “My teammates have been huge. I started playing when I was 18 years old on Team Canada. Some of the guys on the team are grown men. They have families, jobs and responsibilities. They helped me grow up a lot. I learned a lot of valuable life lessons from the game, especially my teammates,” he said.
Like every athlete, he has his idols that he has looked up to throughout his life. He has always looked up to Terry Fox and he respects his accomplishments. Apart from that, his family is always there for him. “My brother taught me the most about hockey. He always had time to talk to me after games and practices. I appreciate my brother. Past that, it’s the support I get from my family. I travel a lot and I have to train a lot. I miss birthdays and family events I don’t like to miss but everyone is very supportive of me and I really appreciate that,” he said.
Going forward Westlake hopes Team Canada will win gold in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The result at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver was frustrating for Hockey Canada as they were the gold medal favourites. “I know Hockey Canada expects a lot out of us. I tell everyone nobody wants to win more than I do. I’m excited to get back on top and I really think we’re going to do it in Russia,” he said.
Clayton Theriault is a 20-year-old student from Oakville, Ontario, Canada. He is currently in the process of obtaining his print journalism diploma at Sheridan College. He is currently an at-large writer for The Hockey Writers.