For some athletes the Beijing experience is just getting started. The Paralympics will start September 6th. The facilities that hosted the Beijing Summer Games will host the worlds best Paralympians. One of those people is Chris Stoutenburg of Collingwood.
Stoutenburg is a veteran of the Canadian National Mens’ Basketball team. This will be the third Paralympics for the Collingwood native. The first time Chris made the trip to the Paralympics was early in his career, he came home with a gold medal. “I could hardly settle down during the first trip to the games,” says Stoutenburg. “It really was mind blowing.
The second time was easier, and this time it is all business.”
The game of wheelchair basketball came to Chris Stoutenburg when he needed it most. Chris had been in a wheelchair for about a year (he was injured in a fall) when he was invited by a fellow student at Guelph University to come and take part in a wheelchair game.
Stoutenburg says he took to the game immediately. As a teenager he had played basketball in highschool and in the Ontario Basketball Association program; he found that the skills he had were easily transferred to the wheelchair game. “Really, the game isn’t a lot different, just that you are sitting down.”
He says he fell in love with the game. Chris says the game helped him deal with life in a wheelchair. “The game has let me talk to people with disabilities, this has let me know I am not alone.” Stoutenburg says having the chance to play in front of thousands of people has given him confidence in day to day life.
Chris also says that he feels being fortunate enough to live in Collingwood helped a lot. “There were so many people that helped me and my family, I don’t know if that would have happened in the big city. That made a big difference.”
Shortly after taking up the game Chris joined a wheel chair basketball team in Burlington. He says in that time the sport has grown tremendously. He says that there are easily four or five teams that have to be considered capable of winning in Beijing, even though Canada is considered a pre tournament favourite.
Stoutenburg was asked what the athletes think about taking the “stage” after the summer games, and if the athletes would like to see the games integrated in the future.
“These games give the athletes a chance to make a statement,” says Stoutenburg. “The games aren’t about wanting to be part of the Summer Olympics. We can do more about awareness with a separate competition.”
There has been talk about moving some events into the Olympic spotlight. Wheelchair Basketball is one of the sports. Stoutenburg says he hopes that doesn’t happen. “Our event is one of the high profile sports, and it would take away from the Paralympics not to be here. Our sport and track can help build exposure.”
Stoutenburg will be chasing his third Paralympic medal in as many trips to the games. The medal won’t be a rare thing for him. Chris said he knew he would love the game from the first time he played. You could say the game loved him back. To say he rose through the ranks quickly may be a bit of an understatement.
2008 Gold Medallist at the Good Luck Beijing International Invitational, Beijing, China
2006 Gold Medallist at the Gold Cup World Championships in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and selected recipient of the City of Amsterdam Sport Award (MVP)
2006 Gold Medallist at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England
2004 Medallist at the Athens Paralympic Games in Greece
2003 Gold Medallist at the Qualification Tournament in Argentina
2000 Gold Medallist at the Sydney Paralympic Games in Australia
2007 Bronze Medallist at National Championships with Team Ontario and selected to All Star
If you read the list and wonder what is left to be done, you aren’t the only one. Chris says that after the Beijing tournament many of the players on the team will be leaving the program. “We have been together a long time, and now for many it is time to start families and careers. This takes a lot of commitment.”
Stoutenburg says that as he heads into the games he is contemplating his future. He admits he is leaning towards retirement. “Like the rest of the guys on the team I have really enjoyed this, but there is a big commitment to staying game ready. There is a time to carry on with your life.”
For now though the focus is on the game. “I am going to Beijing to win a medal,” says Stoutenburg. “We will deal with what is next when I get back.” Remember this time he said the trip was all business.
Written by Dale West for mycollingwood.ca