Decorated Para hockey player Billy Bridges is about to make his international debut in the summer sport. Bridges will throw javelin and shot put at the Parapan American Games.
The six-time Canadian Paralympian hockey athlete and winner of four medals, including gold, transitioned from the ice team sport to an individual field event.
“So new. I feel like a rookie,” Bridges told The Canadian Press.
The 2023 Parapan American Games begin on Friday in Santiago, Chile, immediately following the Pan American Games in that city. A Canadian team of nearly 500 athletes won 164 medals, including 46 gold, at the Pan American Games that ended Nov. 5.
Bridges is among 140 Canadian para-athletes competing in 14 sports (track and field, swimming, cycling, rugby, basketball, tennis, shooting, judo, badminton, boccia, table tennis, soccer, goalball and archery) to the November 26.
The preliminary table tennis competition began on Thursday ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony at the National Stadium.
I’m not ready to ‘get a real job yet’
Bridges was a wheelchair basketball player and thrower early in his athletic life before hockey became his full-time sport. He is Canada’s all-time Para hockey scoring leader with 199 goals and 227 assists in 251 career games.
The competitive fire that still burns in the 39-year-old from Summerside, PEI, rekindled his interest in the throwing arts.
His wife Sami Jo Small is a former goalie for the women’s national hockey team, but also threw javelin and discus at Stanford, where she studied mechanical engineering.
“Last year when I stepped away from hockey, I needed something and I wasn’t ready to become a real person and get a real job yet,” Bridges said.
“Throwing came to mind. At the Tokyo Olympics that just happened, I love seeing the throwers and my wife being a well-established thrower with good results. I’ve become very interested in that.”
SEE | Bridges’ path to becoming a Para hockey star:
Athletics Canada connected Bridges with throwing coach Richard Parkinson, who also coaches world silver medalist shot putter Sarah Mitton in Toronto. Bridges’ wife also accelerated his pitching career.
“Sami has probably helped me a lot. I got the news that I was on the Parapan American team literally less than 24 hours before we flew to Stanford for a meeting she was having there. She was the first to suggest that ‘We’re packing your bags.’ things to throw,” Bridges said.
“When you’re a seated and wheelchair thrower, you can’t do it yourself. You need someone to retrieve it all the time. She’s done it many, many times for me and she’s definitely tried to help me with I guess my technique is the same one that a husband is willing to listen to.”
‘I want to see if I can do another career’
Bridges’ strength is the javelin, but he is also working towards a Paralympic qualifying standard in the shot put. The javelin is not competed in its seated throw classification of 55 at the Paralympic Games, although it is at the Parapan American Games.
“My distances are in the top five. I would love to leave Santiago with a medal in that, for sure,” Bridges said. “Having been a part of a team sport my whole life, I would love to be able to get a medal for Team Canada, so I can help in our medal race.
“Also to justify all the effort and work that so many people at Athletics Canada have been doing to include me and bring me into their family. I would love to be able to win a medal for them and show that I mean business.” about it and I want to compete.
Bridges is among seven athletes from Santiago who have represented Canada in another sport at the Paralympic or Parapan American Games.
Canada’s Paralympic team claimed 60 medals, including 17 gold, in 2019 in Lima, Peru.
The 2023 edition features 64 athletes who have already competed in a Paralympic Games, including 18 Paralympic medalists.