BY ZACHARY CORMIER
Peter Won isn’t taking anything for granted when he heads Rio to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games as part of Canada’s national men’s wheelchair basketball team.
“I’m pretty excited, but I’ll be more excited once I’m up there,” said Won, who resides in Blackfalds, during a phone interview from the Edmonton International Airport. “I don’t know what to expect. I’m just trying to focus on the Games. Trying not to be affected by different little things.”
For Won, representing his country on the world’s biggest stage is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to his sport. It’s a journey that started back when he was 13-years-old and living in B.C.
“When I was 13 I went to this wheelchair sports camp for juniors. There I tried out a bunch of sports and I just ended up with basketball,” recalled Won, now 28.
The experience sparked a passion for the sport that continues to this day. Not long after that, Won began training and competing in B.C.’s junior provincial program, eventually working his way onto the provincial team, who he would compete with in the 2007 Canada Games in Whitehorse, Yukon.
“Since then I’ve just kept hard at it,” he said.
Won’s hard work and dedication to the sport have paid off big time, as he has had the opportunity to travel and play with clubs all over the world. In 2006, the Seoul, Korea-born athlete travelled south of the 49th parallel to play wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois where two years later he would help the team to a collegiate national title.
“It was definitely a fun experience but at the same time it was hard trying to do both academics and athletics,” Won said of playing college ball.
After finishing university, Won moved back to Seoul to play club basketball with Jeju Island and also spent some time playing semi-pro in Germany for the Trier Dolphins.
All of that experience has helped Won become the player he is today. His impressive play throughout his career earned him an invite to try out for Team Canada in 2014. He didn’t make the cut the first time around, but when tryouts rolled around the following year, Won would not be denied.
He made the cut easily to earn the honour of representing Canada on home soil at the 2015 Para Pan Am Games in Toronto, where he helped his team to a silver medal.
“The Pan Ams were my first major tournament,” Won said, adding the experience in Toronto should help him adjust to the busy schedule of an Olympic athlete in Rio. “I think it kind of gave me a feel of what the village is going to be like and what the schedule’s going to be like.”
When asked what role he expects to play on the team during the Games in Rio, Won said he hopes to continue doing what he does best – creating chances for his teammates with his great speed.
“I try to be the leader on the floor. Try to help my teammates perform as well as possible and I also try to handle the ball and try to distribute it to my teammates.”
Now, as he prepares to participate in the biggest tournament of his life, Won said he’s excited to represent Blackfalds and Alberta on the world stage.
“It definitely feels very good but at the same time I’m not really trying to put too much pressure on myself. Just trying to focus on the game as much as possible,” he said, adding he wanted to thank his family and friends for all of their support throughout his career.
Won said winning a gold medal in Rio will be no easy task for the Canadians, who have been one of the most dominant teams in the world when it comes to wheelchair basketball.
“All of the teams at this level are very close to each other. So we’re just trying to take it one game at a time, improve from game to game.”
Right now, the focus is on preparing for Canada’s first preliminary match of the tournament against Spain on Sept. 8th.
“Spain’s a very physical team, so our goal is to try to be composed as much as possible. Try to control our game plan,” Won said, adding he’s trying not to get ahead of <span class="n_