Alison Levine is officially a Paralympian.
On Monday, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Boccia Canada confirmed her nomination to the Canadian boccia team headed to the Rio 2016 Games.
For the 26-year-old Levine, when she received the official team uniform, it was meant to be.
“Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, the way he slides it on and it’s the perfect fit,” she said after a media presentation in Montreal. “I had to do my hardest not to start tearing up and keep a big smile on my face.
“Getting that jacket, that material representation of being on the Paralympic team in my hand was an amazing moment.”
Levine is one of four teammates for whom Rio will be a first Paralympics. The Montreal native is joined by Iulian Ciobanu, who only took up the sport in 2014, teenager Marylou Martineau from Quebec City and Eric Bussiere.
31-year-old Bussiere from Arthabaska, QC will carry some of Canada’s medal hopes in Rio after impressing in winning silver at the World Open in Portugal in June of this year. He went into the tournament ranked only 19th in the world.
For her part, Levine has won eight international medals in the last two years, including a silver at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto last summer and is approaching the step up to the Paralympics with confidence.
“It won’t be an easy tournament. We’re talking about the best of the best,” said the BC4 category athlete. “I’m considered one of those now and my goal is to leave Rio happy with my performance, knowing that I played the best that I could, whether I win or I lose, knowing I put up a fight.”
Levine’s best shot at a medal will comes in the doubles, where she will partner with parasport legend Marco Dispaltro. Dispaltro played wheelchair rugby from 1993 until 2004 and only picked up Boccia in 2010. Formerly ranked number one in the world in the BC4 category he was also part of the silver medal pairs team at the 2015 Parapans. The Montreal native took bronze in the same event at the London 2012 Paralympics, Canada’s seventh Boccia medal at the highest level.
“No other team has such a good connection as me and Marco do,” said Levine of her teammate who will be 49 year old when Rio rolls around.
The final game at the Parapan Ams last year went to overtime against the Brazilians and the Canadian team will be out for some revenge in Rio.
Rounding out the rooster is five-time Paralympian Paul Gauthier. The New Westminster, BC native has competed in every Paralympics since Atlanta in 1996. Gauthier’s remarkable career is crowned with the gold medal he won in Athens in the BC3 Singles event, the first Canadian to top the podium in the sport.
Now 45, his veteran experience and calmness will help the rookies find their feet at their first Games says Levine.
“As much as you try to prepare for it as just another boccia tournament, the reality is it’s not. It is the Paralympics, it’s the big show,” said Levine, who like most Paralympic boccia athletes has muscular dystrophy. “To have someone like (Paul) who’s been through it five times before, who can ground you is something that will be very valuable.”
The primary objective of boccia is to throw leather balls as close to the jack as possible. The game became a Paralympic sport in 1984 and was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy. Today, there are four classification, including athletes with other severe disabilities affecting motor skills. All events are mixed gender and feature individual, pair, and team competitions for a total of seven medal events
Levine described Monday’s announcement and media day as a treat at the end of a tough training camp. The squad has no further competition until Rio but will concentrate on what Levine calls, “extra [supplementals],” namely sports psychology, nutrition and physiotherapy. “All those little things that give us a little extra edge.”
Notably, Boccia Canada has recruited an Australian player who competes in same category as Levine and Dispaltro to help with preparations. Jean-Paul LaFontaine narrowly missed out on making his national team for the Rio Games and will spend three weeks in Canada to interrupt the predictability of training in such a small group.
“Another player that can really challenge us and throw things around,” explained Levine.
Whilst delighted to have made the cut this time round, Levine is looking forward to Brazil but also beyond.
“These are my first Paralympics, hopefully not my last but I want to make those amazing memories.
In Rio, she’ll go shooting for more than that.
Photo credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee