Imagine being an athlete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games — cameras flashing, crowds cheering your name, the adrenaline rush as you push yourself to the limit.
Mount Royal University student Brayden McDougall doesn’t have to imagine it — he lived it.
McDougall placed fourth in his broad classification in Track Cycling, simultaneously breaking a record for his disability class at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, held Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.
“When I’m on the bike it’s really exhilarating,” says 24-year old McDougall, who is a fourth-year student supported through Inclusive Post-Secondary Education in the Bachelor of Applied Business and Entrepreneurship — Sport and Recreation program.
“I enjoy cycling for what it brings me — a chance to compete at a high level and see the world.”
This isn’t the first time he has competed in the Paralympics. McDougall was seventh at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and has competed at three world championships, earning fourth-place finishes each time.
Serving in his volunteer capacity as president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, David Legg, program coordinator and professor, Department of Physical Education and Recreation Studies, was also in London to witness McDougall’s incredible feat.
“I have to admit, I felt a certain level of pride in watching him compete,” says Legg, who has taught McDougall many times over the years.
“To be the fourth best at something in the world — that’s an amazing accomplishment. The Paralympics is an event with 4,000 athletes and 162 competing nations; it’s the best of the best.
“For Brayden to make the Canadian team is a significant accomplishment, let alone finishing fourth internationally.”
A dream is born
McDougall always wanted to ride a bike. Born with cerebral palsy, he spent many years riding with training wheels and attempting to ride without them. His family had just started to look into getting a trike when suddenly he mastered riding on two wheels during the summer of 2002.
Later that year, McDougall was approached by Stephen Burke, National Cycling Centre Calgary Program Coordinator, and Olympic Oval Development Program Coach. Burke asked McDougall whether he could ride a bike, and whether he would like to train with some other riders who also have a disability.
“It’s always great to compete and gauge myself against the best in the world,” says McDougall.“With cerebral palsy, I find that cycling has really helped to improve my focus. I’m better able to multi-task and I’m becoming more independent.”
The power of sport
Having worked in the area of sport management and adaptive physical activity for more than 15 years, Legg has made it his mission to bring the joy and power of sport to people with disabilities.
“I see some real benefits to people being active. I think the benefits that are accrued by able-bodied children are further magnified by children with disabilities,” says Legg, who is a board member for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games in Toronto and is the recipient of the King Clancy Award from the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons.
Legg is a huge proponent of the Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) service offered at Mount Royal, which supports students with developmental disabilities to participate in academic courses as auditors.
Unlike typical auditors, students supported through IPSE are encouraged to participate as much as possible with class requirements that have been modified to meet their learning needs.
“I think there’s strength and diversity by enabling someone like Brayden to participate in our cohort,” says Legg. “He really adds an extra dimension to the class because he can talk about his life experiences. I would suspect that he gives more than he receives.”
A faster, stronger future
McDougall plans to continue cycling professionally with dreams of Paralympics gold in Rio 2016. He also dreams of becoming a motivational speaker to share how being involved with sports has changed his life.
“I will continue to cycle for Team Canada and work at getting faster and stronger,” says McDougall.
“I’m so happy to see that Paralympic sport events are becoming more and more popular and I hope that we can inspire other young people with disabilities to take up sport. Even if they don’t get to the elite level, sport will help them lead better lives.”
— Jondrea De Ruyter, Sept. 20, 2012