Shacarra Orr and her teammates on the Canadian women’s sitting volleyball team will be breaking new ground at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Canada has never sent a team (men’s or women’s) to the Paralympics, and since winning a bronze medal over Cuba at the 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto, a combination of returning players and new additions have come together as a united force.
“A big thing that we had to do was unify as one,” Orr said. “We are a team, we are team Canada women’s sitting volleyball, we aren’t individuals. Even when we’re at home what we do is for the team. When we’re eating, when we’re exercising, everything has the team in mind.”
Orr, a native of British Columbia, made her national team debut in 2013 after competing in the standup game at the high school level. At the heart of her transition to the sitting game has been a complete change in her style, and handedness, of play.
“With my injury I have a limited range of motion in my right arm so that’s prevented me from serving and attacking with my right arm,” she said. “I’ve had to learn and re-train my body to do that all left-handed, which is super unnatural for me. It has been a bit of a struggle. For me it’s been about getting comfortable with my left arm and accepting this new identity that I have and this new body and how I can adjust that so I can be better for the team and for myself.”
Both within her sport and outside of it, Orr is adapting to her new strengths.
“It’s still a process, I’m still learning. I don’t write with my left hand yet. I can do it a little bit, but I mostly write right-handed. Everything else is left-handed. There’s just so many ups and downs. It’s been six years and I’m still learning how to do it,” Orr admitted. “When I started playing volleyball I had a very hard serve. Then going to a serve that didn’t even make it over the net was something that was very hard on me emotionally and that I had to really deal with.”
Head coach Nicole Ban has been a great ally to Ban and her teammates, approaching the team’s on-court development from an angle of strengths while promoting the athletes’ growth elsewhere.
The 19-year-old is currently living in Edmonton for the summer where she is training with teammates daily. Western Canadians have a very strong presence on the women’s sitting volleyball roster, with three others from British Columbia alongside Orr and five from Alberta. Ban, who took over the team last year, is also an Alberta native.
“What she brings technically to the game are completely different things than I’d never even thought of,” Orr says of her national team coach. “She’s really good at working it to our body. Each individual has a specific way that they play and she really recognizes the strengths that our bodies provide and really works on how we can fix our lesser side so that there’s not as big of a gap from our injury to our more dominant side.
“The language she uses, she tells us that we don’t have a bad side, we just have a side that needs work.”
The women’s team will be centralizing in Edmonton at a point in August where they’ll be holding two training sessions daily to prepare for their Paralympic debut. The Canadian women take their first step on September 9th at Riocentro Pavilion 6.
“For us, really we’re growing the program so this was our goal but it doesn’t stop here,” said Orr. “We’re going to Rio. We want to get recognized. We want to show the world that we’re in this and we’re here to compete, even though we’re new and a young team. We’re not backing down after this.”
Photo: Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee