By NICHOLAS JOHANSEN
Five and a half years ago, Tristan Smyth lay in a hospital bed, unable to walk. In less than a month he will be competing in the 1,500-metre and 4x400-metre wheelchair relay in Rio, representing Canada at the Paralympic Games.
In January 2011, 29-year-old Smyth was in a downhill longboarding accident and broke his back.
Before his accident, Smyth never considered pursuing track competitively. While in rehab after the accident, B.C. Wheelchair Sports approached him and asked if he was interested in competing.
Smyth, who had played several sports before his accident, quickly took a liking to it.
“I started taking transit from the hospital and going to practices before I even left the hospital,” Smyth said. “At that point it was just for fun and to stay active and then in 2012, opportunities came up.”
Smyth says a lot of people saw his potential early on, and gave him the opportunities to compete.
While lying in his hospital bed after the accident, Smyth was watching the IPC Athletics World Championships online, which were held in New Zealand that year.
“I saw a bunch of the Canadians and thought, 'That's cool,' and it sort of sparked a bit of interest in it,” he said, “Now they're guys that I push with, and sometimes beat, so it's kind of fun to see that progression.”
Athletics Canada announced their 2016 Paralympic team on Aug. 11, confirming that Smyth will be competing.
Smyth heads down to Rio with the rest of the team on Aug. 26, and will train in the new climate for a couple weeks before his first race, the 1,500-metre, on Sept. 12. The 4x400-metre race takes place on Sept. 16.
“It's an incredible opportunity and a true honour to be representing the country but it's also a time to stay grounded and try and treat it like any other race and not get overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all, and make sure I'm in the best position to do what I can do,” Smyth said.