HUNTSVILLE - Brandon Wagner has been dreaming about representing Canada at the paralympic games for a while, but things got real in mid-January.
Wagner has been selected to join the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball team for the London 2012 Paralympics after the national team’s training camp in Las Vegas.
“When I found out that I made the team, I was literally speechless for probably the first time in my life,” he recalled.
“I was overwhelmed with emotions realizing that I accomplished a goal that I have been trying to achieve for a long time now.”
Wagner has been paving his way to the top since 2002 – about two years after a car accident left him paraplegic while he was a high school student at Aldershot.
He says it’s been a long road, but he wouldn’t change anything.
“It was also a time of reflection (when he found out he made the team) thinking about all of the hard work and sacrifices that not only I have made, but all of my family, friends, teammates and coaches that have helped me to get here,” said the native of Burlington, Ont.
At first, Wagner was hesitant to get involved in sport after the injury, but a coach in his hometown didn’t give up his efforts to encourage the young man to play.
“He always encouraged me to give wheelchair basketball a chance and once I did, I fell in love with the game,” said Wagner.
He regularly played hockey, basketball and golf with his friends before the accident.
Wagner started playing wheelchair basketball in order to be involved in the community, and to get back into a competitive team sport that would give him the opportunity to meet people and have new experiences.
From that moment on, his progress in the sport has been rapid.
Wagner began to play with the Burlington Vipers, and participated at his first international competition on the under-23 junior national team at the 2005 world championships in Birmingham, England.
Before he knew it, he was accepted at the University of Illinois where he won the collegiate championships in 2008 – just a year after he was selected on Canada’s National Senior Team.
In 2009, Wagner was named student-athlete of the year.
He is a committed defensive player and uses his intuition to make early reads on plays.
“I know I’m not the fastest guy but I can think my way around the court, and I have the anticipation to get to a spot before someone else,” said the 28-year-old.
“I am primarily a defensive-minded player, but I have been working hard on my offensive game and I have developed a more consistent shot over the last two years.”
Even though Wagner is headed to London, he isn’t done training hard and improving his game.
On top of his job at the Canadian Sport Centre in Toronto, he trains five or six days a week with a trainer lifting weights and working on speed on an oversized treadmill.
Wagner wants the Gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics and he’s doing everything in that regard.
“My goal now is to train as hard and as smart as I can,” he said. “Our team motto is ‘Everyday in Everyway,’ so when we are not together, my main focus is on London and putting the work in and making life decisions that will hopefully result in a Gold medal.”
Canada has been on the podium every time in the previous six major tournaments including the world championships and paralympics.
However, things changed in the last two years with a seventh-place finish at the 2010 world championships in Birmingham, England and a loss to Colombia in the semifinals of the Parapan American Games in last November in Mexico giving Canada a bronze medal.
Wagner and the team have work to do in getting back to reigning in the sport.
A stop in Huntsville at the end of Feb. to take part in the 2012 Ontario ParaSport Winter Games is a part of this plan, and Wagner is looking forward to it.
“These are my first ParaSport Games and I couldn’t be more excited — the competition is going to be great,” he said. “There are a lot of great players from the GTA taking part in this tournament and it is always great to play against the world class players.”