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Wheelchair tennis athlete captures bronze at UTSC

Joel Dembe (left) with interviewer Michael Onley at the University of Toronto Scarborough Tennis Centre.

This week, communications intern Michael Onley had a chance to interview Parapan athlete Joel Dembe and some of his supporters. Dembe, along with teammate Philippe Bedard, captured the bronze medal in men’s doubles wheelchair tennis at the new facility in the valley here at U of T Scarborough. Here’s the transcript of that interview.

MICHAEL ONLEY: Tell me what it means to be representing Canada here at para Pan Am?

JOEL DEMBE: It's a really cool thing, usually were playing tournaments in the middle of nowhere or in some country and to do it in my home city to be here at the para Pan Am games has been an amazing experience.

MICHAEL ONLEY: What message do want to give the community in the province, and the country to take away from para Pan Am and the sport of wheelchair tennis?

JOEL DEMBE: When they come out,  I hope that they see that we are more than disabled individuals, I think that is what you see is more athleticism then you would assume for someone with a disability. I think wheelchair tennis is a great international sport; it showcases the best type of wheelchair sport. It's fast, it’s fun. It shows that tennis is for everyone.

MICHAEL ONLEY: The road to success for Joel Dembe has been that of hard work, dedication and the support from his family and friends.

Kathryn Connolly (Joel's girlfriend)

MICHAEL ONLEY: How and when did this little love story beginning?

KATHRYN CONNOLLY: About two years ago. I was interning for a magazine called Abilities, which is aimed at people with disabilities. Joel is on the board for that, and we crossed paths.

MICHAEL ONLEY: What do you admire most about Joel, and why?

KATHRYN CONNOLLY: he doesn't let anything get in his way; he will find a way to do it if he wants to do it. He very persistent and stubborn which goes back to you will find a way to do it. If that is with accessibility or anything like that, he will take the steps to get past that.

Adam Dembe (Joel’s brother)

ADAM DEMBE: Joel has never really been the kind of person where a barrier will get in his way. You know, to have a facility like this here it's just an unreal experience to be here and see him compete in front of the home crowd, in front of such a great environment here at the U of T campus and having this brand-new facility being fully accessible bodes well to tennis in Canada.

Joel Dembe

MICHAEL ONLEY: What advice do you have for a young man or woman who is trying to achieve their goal of becoming a wheelchair tennis player?

JOEL DEMBE: Do not expect it to happen overnight. You have to keep working, working and working. There is always something you can do to get better. For me that was just to figure out how to get the ball over the net in a wheelchair. Some people are going to get a quicker; some people are going to take 10 years. But if you really love what you do, whether its wheelchair tennis or whatever, you just have to keep working really hard and be passionate about what you're doing.

MICHAEL ONLEY: They say accessibility is that which enables people to achieve their full potential, what does it mean for you to be here and to be doing that, to be achieving your full potential?

JOEL DEMBE: I would argue with you on my full potential. I always feel like I can do something to get better, whether it is on or off the court. In terms of accessibility, I think being in Toronto we live in one of the greatest cities in terms of accessibility. And also when you look at tennis, I grew up being the only kid in my school in a wheelchair and when I discovered tennis I realized I could play against able-bodied components or friends. That was something that was everything for me. Tennis has given me the world.

© University of Toronto Scarborough