Erica Gavel

Basketball - Paralympic
Hometown: Prince Albert

"I have an opportunity to represent Canada, something I had always aspired to do. To have that opportunity is just phenomenal. It actually leaves me speechless! It has been really hard at times over the last two years. It's so true when people say, Anything is possible."

At the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Erica Gavel will have an opportunity she thought had been taken away for her: representing Canada on the world stage.

Gavel, from Prince Albert, is a member of the number one ranked Canadian Women's Wheelchair Basketball squad that will be looking to strike gold at the Paralympics. For Gavel, who was a rising star with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women's basketball team before being sidelined by a serious knee injury, it's a dream come true.

"I have an opportunity to represent Canada - something I had always aspired to do. To have that opportunity is just phenomenal. It actually leaves me speechless," said Gavel. "It has been really hard at times over the last two years. It's so true when people say, 'Anything is possible.' "

For many years, it seemed inevitable that Gavel would represent Canada on the world stage, just not in the Paralympics. She was involved in every sport she could think of growing up, and excelled in all of them. By Grade 11, she decided to focus on basketball. Gavel was a standout with the Carlton Crusaders, so much so that colleges across the United States were offering her full scholarships. However, she was drawn to the U of S because some team members were on the national squad.

In her rookie year with the Huskies, she scored 61 points, grabbed 53 rebounds and contributed eight assists. Gavel suffered a knee injury near the end of her first season and had surgery. After rehabbing, she prepared to make a comeback in her sophomore year.

Unfortunately, Gavel had a cartilage tear in the same knee and had to endure 18 more months of rehab. Then, while trying to get back into shape, she re-injured her knee again. Gavel had suffered a micro-fracture, meaning she had no cartilage between the femur and the tibia. The diagnosis was that her sports career was over.

"After my knee surgery I was done sports for four months," Gavel said. "It definitely had a huge impact."

But then Bruce Craven, her trainer, found out she was classifiable to play wheelchair basketball. The opportunity to get back into the game, playing basketball no less, was one Gavel was not going to pass up.

At first, though, Gavel found her skills didn't translate to wheelchair basketball.

"It almost accepted that I wasn't going to be good, at all," she said. "But Bruce had lots of knowledge in terms of how the body moves, how to teach the body how to move and how to do it properly. All I had to do was show up to the gym, follow this prescription, put my full effort into this prescription, and go home at the day and be done."

Gavel bought into the process. She began training two times-a-day for six days-a-week. In March, only three months after she began the sport, she was invited to the Team Canada Skills Camp. The team was training in Alabama because of the weather, and as fate would have it, she was observed by coaches from Alabama and offered a full scholarship. Gavel is currently attending the University of Saskatchewan, finishing up her Kinesiology degree, and plans to start another degree or her masters in the future, depending on her basketball schedule.

Last January, Gavel attended the national selection camp and made the team. Since then, it has been a whirlwind for her. Canada won a gold medal at the 2014 Women's World Wheelchair Basketball Championships. The team is now preparing for the Parapan Am Games next summer before preparation for the Paralympics starts.

"Bruce told me that if you go this basketball route, you could go to the Paralympics," said Gavel. "Looking back, it's probably one of the things I'm most proud about."

Gavel, who has had the opportunity to give back and coach younger athletes, is a motivation all athletes in Saskatchewan looking to achieve success, especially if they have to try a completely new sport.

"I've really learnt that no matter what you do, if you work your hardest and really be the best that you can be, you're going to be successful," said Gavel. "I love coaching because I know those kids look up to you and you've had the opportunity to influence them the same way that people have influenced you."

Saskatchewan Wheelchair Sports Association (SWSA)