Anderson, Lakatos, Rivard among Canadian athletes to watch at Tokyo Paralympics

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Canada has 128 athletes competing at the Tokyo Paralympics, which opened on Tuesday and run through Sept. 5. Here are five to watch:

Patrick Anderson, Wheelchair Basketball

The 42-year-old from Fergus, Ont., is widely considered the greatest wheelchair basketball player in history. He led Canada to gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2012, and silver in 2008, but took a hiatus and missed the 2016 Games to focus on his music career. He and wife Anna Paddock make up the Indie singer-songwriter duo "The Lay Awakes." To the delight of his teammates, Anderson, who lost both his legs below the knee when he was struck by a drunk driver at the age of nine, is back to help propel Canada back onto the podium.

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Nate Riech, Track and Field

The 26-year-old from Victoria is one of track and field's emerging stars, shattering the world record in both the Paralympic 800 and 1,500 metres the first time he ran them in 2018. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Riech has lowered his 1,500 record three times this season, and is aiming for the top of the podium in that event. At age 10, Riech suffered a brain injury that affects movement in the right side of his body when he was hit in the head with a golf ball from 150 yards away. He competed for the University of South Alabama's able-bodied track team in college before he tried Para sports.

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Brent Lakatos, Track and Field

The 41-year-old from Dorval, Que., is one of Canada's most decorated Paralympics, with 11 world titles and seven Paralympic medals. Lakatos is racing all six distances on the track in Tokyo -- 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,500 and 5,000 metres. And in a whatever-is-left-in-the-tank effort, he'll compete in the marathon on the final day of competition. Lakatos won the London Marathon this past winter, but should face stifling heat in Japan which saw dozens of Olympic marathons fail to make the finish line two weeks ago.

Lakatos explained that wheelchair racers can compete in more races in a meet compared to able-bodied runners because the arms have much smaller muscle groups than legs, so recover more quickly. Lakatos has used a wheelchair since suffering a blood clot in his spine when he slid into the boards playing hockey at age six.

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Aurelie Rivard, Swimming

The 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., was chosen to carry Canada's flag into the closing ceremony at the 2016 Rio Olympics after her triple gold medal performance in the pool. She also won a silver. These are Rivard's third and perhaps final Paralympics, and she hopes to climb the medal podium in all six races she'll swim. Rivard said it's tough to gauge where she is globally as she hasn't competed even once since the COVID-19 pandemic began. COVID restrictions prevented her from racing a training partner as swimmers weren't permitted to dive off the blocks simultaneously.

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Jennifer Oakes, Sitting Volleyball

The 24-year-old from Calgary played on Alberta's provincial volleyball team before she lost her right leg below the knee in a boating accident in the summer of 2015. She happened to be recovering in hospital during the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, and after a member of the national sitting team reached out, Oakes joined the sitting team and barely missed a beat. Oakes competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and also for the University of British Columbia's able-bodied team the following year.

Canada finished seventh in sitting volleyball Rio, but arrived in Tokyo ranked fifth after earning a berth in a last-chance qualifier in Halifax back in February of 2020. The team was one of the few sports able to train together through most of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so has lofty hopes for Tokyo.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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