Peter Won carries the ball during Parapan Am Games gold-medal game

Hard work pays off for local para-athletes

If at first you don’t succeed . . . just work harder. That might seem like a simple and perhaps unrealistic solution, but it was the answer for Peter Won, who made his debut with the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team this year after failing to make the grade in 2014.

If at first you don’t succeed . . . just work harder.

That might seem like a simple and perhaps unrealistic solution, but it was the answer for Peter Won, who made his debut with the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team this year after failing to make the grade in 2014.

“After I graduated college, I got focused on training more than ever,” the Blackfalds resident said Thursday, after returning from the recent Parapan Am Games in Toronto, where the Canadian squad earned silver medals after falling to the United States in the championship final.

“I feel that I’m just that much better this year than last. I’ve been working harder, working smarter with the coaches.”

Red Deer swimmer Tammy Cunnington was another Parapan Am Games success story, winning two individual medals and a team medallion.

Won, 27, lost his legs at the age of four after being involved in an auto accident.

His family moved to Canada from Seoul, Korea, in 2006 and he became involved with wheelchair basketball while living in North Vancouver.

Won represented Team B.C. in the 2007 Canada Winter Games, then enrolled at the University of Illinois and helped the Fighting Illini capture a U.S. collegiate national title a year later.

He then returned to his roots to play club basketball in Seoul and also played semi-pro ball in Germany.

Last year, Won received an invitation to try out for the Canadian team. He didn’t survive the final cuts, but returned to the selection camp earlier this year and would not be denied a second time.

“Playing on the Canadian national team is an honour that means everything to me,” he said.

“I’ve been having a lot of fun lately playing national team basketball.”

Won, whose family relocated to Blackfalds four years ago, is looking ahead to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I’ll stay with the sport at least until Rio, at least another year,” he said.

Winning silver at the Parapan Am Games represents the biggest highlight of Won’s wheelchair basketball career. Naturally, winning gold at Rio would be even sweeter.

Won, who is currently unemployed and is considering seeking a part-time job, is confident that the Canadian team will be a gold-medal contender in Brazil.

“Certainly, we have a lot of potential because we have a young team,” he said. “We’ve been improving a lot the last couple of years and we’ll have another strong team next year.”

Cunnington also has the Rio Paralympics circled on her 2016 calendar.

“I’m on the path to the (Canadian) Paralympic Trials in April in Toronto,” she said Thursday, four days after returning home from the Parapan Am Games. “I will have a couple of big meets before that, but the Trials is the main goal for now.”

It’s hard to imagine Cunnington not qualifying for the 2016 Canadian paralympic swim team considering how she fared at the worlds in Glasgow last month and the Parapan Am Games, which concluded last weekend.

“I’ve had a really good summer,” she said.

Indeed, Cunnington qualified for the 50-metre freestyle final in the world championships — eventually finishing seventh — and posted personal best times in each of the 200m free, 100m free, 50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke and 50m butterfly events.

She then established personal bests in each of her specialities in the Parapan Am Games.

“The times were better than Glasgow. I did really well at the world championships and then three weeks later bettered them in Toronto,” she said.

Attending the worlds was a perfect tune-up for the Parapan Am Games, Cunnington stressed.

“Absolutely, having the worlds first allowed me to get used to things and have a better understanding of all the details, including the starts,” she said. “The Parapan Am Games felt like second nature to me. I was more prepared.”

The result was a silver-medal performance in the S4 200m free and a bronze finish in the 100m free. She also helped the Canadian 4×50 20 point mixed relay team earn a bronze medal and placed no lower than fourth in three of her four other individual events.

“I’m always surprised when I succeed like that, but I was built up for that to happen, absolutely,” she said.

Cunnington was six years old when she was struck by an airplane at a Ponoka air show in April of 1982. The accident left her a paraplegic with the full use of her right arm, plus her core and shoulders.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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