By Glenda McCarthy
If you had asked Danielle Arbour four years ago where she would be in 2015, the last answer you would have gotten is training for the World Championships in wheelchair basketball. But that’s exactly what the 19-year-old Goulds native is doing.
It’s an understatement to say Danielle leads an active life. In addition to attending CNA’s Comprehensive Arts & Science (CAS) Transition program full-time, she’s been actively pursuing her passion – wheelchair basketball. While Danielle’s talent has allowed her to make the cut for the Canadian National Under 25 (U25) team, up until four years ago she had never touched a basketball.
“Everyone, ever since I was really young, was always telling me to play wheelchair basketball but I said, ‘No it’s not my thing.’” What was her thing you ask? It was actually singing.
“I can remember teachers asking me to sing little parts in elementary school but I never became super involved with my singing until I was 12 years old and that’s when I started doing recitals and performing at gigs,” Danielle recalls. “I’ve always been a singer so it’s a weird transition for me. My parents say it’s so weird to see me playing sports and not be on stage, but I like this better. I’m more of a competitive person so basketball is my thing now.”
She says her parents are very proud of her, and they certainly have the right to be. In 2011 Danielle was the Easter Seals Ambassador,
an organization which brings life-changing programs and services to people with disabilities. As the ambassador, she was given the opportunity to meet para-Olympian athletes. David Eng, of the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team for wheelchair basketball, was one of those athletes and it was his encouragement that changed her focus.
“He said, ‘I really want to see you in the program in the next couple of years,’ so he was kind of like my little push to get into it. I started and I loved it! I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Danielle has played for four years and in April 2014 she was one of 22 athletes invited to the national selection training camp held at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough, Ont. She says from there her involvement snowballed and she frequently gets asked to play with other provinces. In February 2015 she joined Team PEI for the Canada Games where they placed fourth.
“Newfoundland doesn’t have a team because there isn’t enough skill level and enough interest but I’ve been involved with the national program for a year, and in December I was named to the junior national team.”
The Women’s U25 National Team helps to develop the top young Canadian female athletes in preparation for the Women’s U25 World Championships, which are hosted every four years by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation. Players must be 25 or younger to be eligible to compete.
With the championships being held in Beijing, China this June, there is an intense practice schedule for the 11-member U25 team. Danielle practices four hours a week while in Newfoundland but while she is in Toronto with her teammates she is in the gym for six hours each day for the five days she is in the city. It’s become the norm for Danielle to spend two weeks of each month outside of her home province.
“I’ll be gone for seven days, then I’ll be home for a week and then I’ll go again. Before the tryouts I was in Toronto for a week, then home for two weeks and then gone another week. I was home for six days and had to go back again – so it’s a lot of travel. As soon as I land in Toronto though, my body just kind of switches over and I have no jet lag.”
While she is relatively new to basketball, Danielle has is not adverse to other sports as she played sledge hockey for one season and was the only female on the team. They travelled to London, Ontario and were able to come home with gold in their division. However, her commitments to the national team and the CAS: Transition program didn’t allow her to continue with the team this season.
While her schedule certainly keeps her busy, Danielle says she couldn’t have done it without the support from the team at CNA.
“The teachers I’ve had here have been super supportive of what I’m doing and that’s awesome, so I’ve been taking my notes and they have tutors if you need them. We have our spare time (when training with the team) so we do our school work when we can.”
Danielle has attended her last class and written her last exam for the CAS: Transition program. She is now hoping to gain entrance into the Centre of Nursing Studies Practical Nursing program.
In the meantime, the 19-year-old still has a lot of basketball years ahead. At 25, she will have the opportunity to try out for the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team. The senior team is selected annually to represent Canada in a number of international tournaments and competitions, with the ultimate goal of winning gold at marquee events such as the Special Olympics, the World Championships, held every four years, and the Paralympic Games, which is held in conjunction with the Olympic Summer Games every four years.
Regardless of which team she’s playing with, you’ll be sure to find Danielle shooting for the gold – and she’s hoping there will be one waiting for her at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020!