National boccia championship comes to London, Ont., rounding up Canada's top para-athletes

Marco Dispaltro, who participated in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games pictured starting off his round at the 2022 Canadian Boccia Championships.  (Isha Bhargava/CBC - image credit)
Marco Dispaltro, who participated in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games pictured starting off his round at the 2022 Canadian Boccia Championships. (Isha Bhargava/CBC - image credit)

Para-athletes from all across the country have gathered in London, Ont. this week for the 28th annual Canadian Boccia Championships.

Thirty-five boccia players from five provinces— Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, and Newfoundland—are competing to become the national champion. Among those are Alison McKee and Tom Mahoney, who are playing for London on 'Team Ontario'.

"I feel honoured and very grateful that we get to represent London, I love the sport and I'm just enjoying the experience," said McKee, who's playing at her first-ever national tournament.

McKee started playing boccia almost 17 years ago, when her husband Jamie introduced her to the sport. Now, it's one of their favourite bonding activities, she said.

Boccia is a paralympic precision ball sport with similar strategies to lawn bowling or curling. It's played by athletes with Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy and other related disabilities. Players compete in one of six sport classes based on their level and type of disability.

'I find boccia very fulfilling'

Isha Bhargava/CBC
Isha Bhargava/CBC

Boccia has helped both McKee and her teammate Mahoney with improving their confidence and making long-lasting friendships with other athletes, they said.

"I find boccia very fulfilling, and I want to say my training is heavy, and I give it my all," said Mahoney, who's played the sport for nearly 30 years.

Mahoney adds that he feels a little rusty since this is his first tournament in two years due to arthritis in his neck, requiring him to take some time off. Prior to boccia, the 62-year-old's favourite sport to play was wheelchair hockey, he said

"I feel very good and I'm looking forward to playing all the games that I can win," he said.

This is the fourth time the tournament has been held in the Forest City. The London Cannonballs Boccia Club had plans to host it in 2020, but had to cancel due to the pandemic. Organizer Tammy McLeod said her team has worked hard to bring it back to London.

Isha Bhargava/CBC
Isha Bhargava/CBC

McLeod, who has a speech impediment, shared through her interpreter that she's loved playing boccia since she was a teenager and the sport has given her lots of opportunities.

"It was something she could participate in, and she likes the aspect of outsmarting your opponent," said interpreter Lynsey Monteith. "It's given her the opportunity to travel around the world and play the sport she loves."

McKee said boccia has also helped her learn to deal with stress and the performance pressure during the matches.

"It takes a lot on your mind, because you have to think of certain shots and two or three in advance depending on the player you're playing depending on their skill set," she said.

The duo plans to win as many games as they can and enjoy the ride by chanting their team slogan "go Ontario go!"

The championship takes place at the North London Optimist Community Centre from Nov. 17 to Nov. 21.