By Olive Nugent
Lisgar Collegiate Gym – On September 18th, 2017, Lisgar played host to not one, but two major world leaders. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was joined by his British counterpart, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, in greeting wounded veterans and Lisgar students at an Invictus Games wheelchair basketball event in the school gymnasium.
Members of the military and the national press were gathered in the auditorium shortly after fourth period as hundreds of students filed into the bleachers. Down on the gym floor, half a dozen veterans led a handful of Lisgar students in a variety of wheelchair basketball drills for about forty minutes as they waited for the dignitaries to arrive.
The event was organized as part of the Invictus Games, which were held in Toronto this year in the last week of September. Founded by Prince Harry in 2014, the annual multi-sport event for sick an injured veterans features adapted sports including sitting-volleyball, archery and rowing.
Prime Ministers May and Trudeau arrived at about 4pm and were greeted with cheers by the crowd of students. Going from player to player, they shook hands and chatted with veterans and students amid a flurry of basketballs being passed back and forth. Mr. Trudeau briefly joined in the exercise, and Mrs. May was at one point narrowly missed by a stray ball, but took it in her stride. Both leaders appeared in good humour as they greeted the last of the military members and stepped back to let the game begin.
The scrimmage that followed was intense and fast- paced, with Lisgar students scoring multiple times to cheers and applause from the crowd, which was a sea of black and yellow Invictus Games flags.
May and Trudeau were then joined by military members, Invictus athletes, and the Ministers of Veterans’ Affairs and of Sport and Persons with Disabilities for a group photo. Each leader was presented with a Canadian Invictus Games jersey, before giving brief remarks. Mr. Trudeau praised the event for celebrating the spirit of wounded warriors, while Ms. May remarked on the value of having young people train alongside these veterans, while at the same time honouring their sacrifice.
Allison Williams, Captain of the Lisgar Girls’ Basketball Team, took part in the event and was greeted by Prime Ministers Trudeau and May. When asked how she found the drills and scrimmage, she said:
“It was hard! I expected it to be fairly similar to regular basketball, but I was wrong! Not only is the net so much further away because you’re sitting down, but in regular basketball a lot of the power in your shot comes from your legs, and obviously that’s taken away from you when you’re in a wheelchair, so it’s all arm strength!
“The athletes I had the chance to play with were really awesome people! Not all of them were basketball players; one of the men from the UK was a cyclist. It was super cool to get to play with them and to see how much fun they have playing the sports that they love!”
When asked how she found the dignitaries, Williams commented that “they genuinely seemed interested in what we were doing. They were really nice, and they asked me what school I went to, how the wheelchair felt, and they thanked me for coming out to the event. After I shook [Trudeau’s] hand, I was seriously considering not washing my right hand for a while, but it was really dirty from the wheelchair wheels.”
“It was a really amazing opportunity,” Williams remarked in closing, “and I am so grateful to have been a part of it. The athletes that compete in the Invictus games are so strong and I think it was awesome that this sort of event was held at Lisgar to draw attention to these games and these athletes.”