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The road to Rio goes through UTSC

Mitch Bossaer has mastered the art of dribbling on wheels. The Academy prepares him and others for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Every time Mitch Bossaer wheels himself onto the UTSC basketball court, there’s one thing on his mind.

“I want to be a member of the national team so I can represent my country at the Paralympics,” he says. Winning a medal is on his agenda, too.

Making the team for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro is on the minds of all his colleagues at Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s National Academy, located at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Last October, a select group of 16 athletes from across the country embarked on the Academy’s full-time, year-round training program. Some, like Bossaer, are UTSC students.

A native of Saskatoon, Bossaer grew up in a hockey family; the game was at the centre of almost everything. His brothers and younger sister all played hockey.

“I didn’t like hockey. I just hated skating, and that probably bothered my dad a little bit,” he recalls. The game that caught his attention was basketball. When he was eight, Bossaer enrolled in the Saskatoon Minor Basketball Association and played until he was 13, when he received news that would change his life.

Bossaer was diagnosed with cancer. His leg was amputated as part of his treatment. After the operation, he required the use of a wheelchair and he also learned to walk with a prosthetic leg.

None of this took away his resolve to play basketball. Bossaer admits that when he learned he couldn’t stand up to play basketball anymore, he didn’t know what the future would be like. Later his physiotherapist introduced him to the wheelchair basketball community. Shortly after getting involved, Bossaer was selected to join the Saskatchewan team that competed in the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax.

“That cemented my ambition,” he says. “Just knowing that I am having success that early gave me back the drive to compete.”

And that was just the beginning. In the summer of 2013, Bossaer played for the Canadian Under-23 team at the World Junior Championships in Turkey. He was also a member of the team that won Gold in Mexico City, qualifying for the World Championship.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to put that jersey on. It’s a feeling all to itself; representing your country is something you dream about growing up,” he says. Bossaer’s role model is Los Angeles Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant. The two met in 2010 through the Children’s Wish Foundation, a charitable organization that helps kids diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses to fulfill their wishes –most of which include travelling and meeting favourite celebrities.

Now a first-year arts and science student, Bossaer works to succeed in class and on the court, taking courses in philosophy and sports management and putting in 20 hours of basketball practice every week. His dream of the Paralympics in Rio is very much alive.

© University of Toronto Scarborough