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Oakville Curler and Para Athlete competing at Para Panam Games

Great article on our Oakville Curling Club member and para-athlete Billy Bridges. Billy plays in our Monday Night Open league as well as our Sunday Doubles League. 


Veteran Para winter athlete Billy Bridges relishes new challenges of summer sports

Former Para hockey player competing in shot put, javelin at Para Panam Games

Devin Heroux · CBC Sports · Posted: Nov 22, 2023 9:25 AM EST | Last Updated: November 22

After nearly three decades of competing at the highest level of sport, Billy Bridges is feeling like a rookie all over again.

And he says it's never felt so good.

Bridges, 39, is one of the country's most decorated Paralympians, having competed at six Games in Para ice hockey for Canada beginning in 2000 when he was just 16.

He's won countless world championships, four Paralympic medals including gold in 2006, and is widely regarded as one of the most successful Para hockey players to have ever played the sport.

Twenty-five years after making his first national team on the ice as a Para hockey player, Bridges is poised to make his Parapan Am Games debut as a member of Team Canada in summer sports, this time competing in shot put and javelin.

beijing paralympics ice hockey

"To be able to represent Canada in Para sport has been a lifelong dream for me since I was 14 years old," Bridges told CBC Sports in Santiago. "Getting that call made me feel like I was 14 years old again, in my kitchen getting a phone call from the coach that I made the hockey team. I'm a rookie all over again and I'm loving it."

The Paralympian from Summerside, P.E.I., competes in shot put on Wednesday before heading into his favourite event, javelin, on Thursday.

He says it was eight years ago when his wife, former national hockey team goalie Sami Jo Small, first planted the idea that maybe he could make the switch from the rink to track and field sports.

"I've always been inspired by my wife and she threw javelin and discus at Stanford [University]" Bridges said. "One of the first trips we ever made together was to Stanford to see the facilities. I've always loved watching the field events and it was something I wanted to try."

Small competed at Stanford in the discus, hammer throw, and javelin, but she's best known for being an Olympic champion and a four-time world champion goalie for the Canadian women's national hockey team.

To say the competitive juices are flowing in their household is an understatement, and there have been many coaching sessions between Bridges and Small in the lead-up to the Parapan Am Games.

"He was never used to individual coaching. It's been a process for us and despite having the knowledge in throwing, I try to leave it to the experts and just try to stay encouraging and positive," Small said. "I say I try, but I often find myself interjecting with, 'maybe try this' or 'have you thought about that?' I've had to learn to pick my times."

Bridges is open to any and all feedback from his wife.

"She's just incredible. Her technical mind with throws is amazing," he said. "Her first multi-sport games was at the Junior Pan Am Games in Santiago throwing javelin. It's really come full circle."

"I'm so proud of him for all the hard work he's put into this," Small said. "Who else can pick up a brand new sport and excel on a world stage? He's so incredibly talented."

Ahead of the trip, Bridges was searching for some last-minute inspiration. That's when he decided to go looking for something that would make him feel connected to Sami Jo while he was competing.

"I raided Sami's closet and stole her javelin shoes she had at Stanford and hopefully they bring me some good luck and hopefully I can throw half as far as she can," Bridges said.

And Small added a little touch of her own to make sure her husband also knew she was him while competing.

On the pole attached to Bridges' chair that he holds while hurling the javelin are photos of Sami Jo and their daughter, as well as the family dog.

billy bridges pole

Bridges and Small are on this journey together and they both say they're getting so much out of it.

"I love that throwing has exposed him to more of my world," Small said. "My previous life before hockey took over. I've been able to reconnect with the throwing community and reunited with my previous coaches and so many great friends."

'The best rookie you could ever ask for'

Earlier in the week Bridges was getting in some last practice throws in with coach Kim Cousins before taking to competition.

Cousins says there are so many things about Bridges that make him an elite athlete who she believes will excel in the field sports.

"To have Billy around is the best rookie you could ever ask for," Cousins said. "He is like a sponge. We have to hold on because he just wants to go hard, but the event he's working on, harder isn't always better. But he's a great learner."

Picking up a new sport is nothing new to Bridges. He also played wheelchair basketball professionally in Spain, as well as helping Canada win world junior wheelchair basketball gold in 2001.

Bridges says Cousins and Richard Parkinson, who coaches Canadian shot putter Sarah Mitton, have been extremely valuable in his progression both in javelin and shot put.

"They have been such amazing coaches and helped me jump into this right away," Bridges said. "There's a steep learning curve but I'm surrounded by amazing people. There's something about hockey that made me learn to get the most out of myself and my body and obviously that translates to any sport. I'm working my way up again and I know I'll do it."

Cousins says Bridges has a profound level of humility that has allowed him to be massively receptive to feedback as he evolves in these sports.

"He's allowing himself to be vulnerable. And to make mistakes and collect data. And being patient," Cousins said. "How fun is this? This is what we're hoping for, our Para athletes competing for a lifetime. There are so many other sports they can come to and be really positive members."

And so here he goes, into another Games for Canada, so proudly wearing the maple leaf at yet another international event.

Bridges can barely contain his emotions and is once again thanking all of those who have supported him throughout his journey.

"The support that any Canadian athlete feels is second to none. Having that support is why I do it and the only way I can do it," he said.

"Doing my best, working the hardest I can, is the only way I can thank all those people who helped me get here."