MALE ANNOUNCER: The power of
sport is a miraculous thing. It builds strength
and confidence. It heals and inspires. It promotes fairness
and inclusion. It brings communities together. It provides a Level
Playing Field. GREG WESTLAKE: Hello, and
welcome to Level Playing Field. I’m your host Greg Westlake. Over the next half hour,
we’ll be showcasing two incredible
para-athletes who are both using the power of sport to
build community, character, and so much more. First off, we have Kevin
Rempel, a former Para ice hockey teammate of mine– or Remps as we like to
call him at the rink. Remps and I had the opportunity
to play for Canada in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. At that point in time, the sport
was still called sledge hockey. Since then, it’s gone through
a bit of a re-branding and is now known globally
as Para ice hockey. However, here in Canada it
is still very well known as sledge hockey, and Kevin uses
that term in his new business the Sledge Hockey Experience. This allows companies the
opportunity to get into a sled and play and learn the
sport that Kevin loves. [MUSIC PLAYING] KEVIN REMPEL: The
sledge hockey experience is a half-day corporate
team-building event created to not only help bring awareness
to both Paralympic sport and what people
with disabilities can do, but also the
challenges we face and how to overcome
those challenges. GREG WESTLAKE (VOICEOVER):
As Kevin Rempel and his team make the final preparations
for their next clients of the Sledge Hockey
Experience at the MasterCard Centre in the West
End of Toronto, you can forgive him
if his mind wanders to just how he got here. The story begins in
the winter of 2002. KEVIN REMPEL: Dad and I
were out deer hunting, building a tree stand. One of the branches
he was standing on broke, and my dad fell
two stories to the ground. And in the accident, he
severed his spinal cord and became a
complete paraplegic. So life was quickly flipped
up on the side of his head, and all of a sudden
we had someone with a disability
in our household. GREG WESTLAKE: While the Rempel
family was able to adjust, Kevin’s father Jerry struggled. KEVIN REMPEL: When
my dad returned home, he became very depressed,
and more so developed a serious gambling addiction. We did everything we could to
help get my dad back involved in hunting again or talk about
adaptive sports or a vehicle with hand controls,
and he wasn’t interested in
learning how to adapt. GREG WESTLAKE: During this
time, Kevin’s childhood love of motocross had
morphed from a pastime into a budding
professional career. KEVIN REMPEL: Ah-hoo! GREG WESTLAKE: That all
changed on July 15, 2006, when tragedy struck the Rempel
family for a second time. KEVIN REMPEL: The
day I crashed, I showed up at this
event very pissed off because things weren’t going
well, and I wasn’t focused. You got to be focused when
you’re jumping a 75-foot gap. And as soon as I took off,
something wasn’t right. My split-second decision
was either stay on the bike or jump off. I decided if I jump off,
it’s the best case scenario– break my legs versus
break my neck– and free-fell from the sky,
and then, as I hit the ground, tumble and rolled. Once I got the air back in
my lungs and tried to move, and it felt like a knife
was twisting in my back, and I knew in that moment
that I also was paralyzed. Verbatim, the words I remember
out of the doctor’s mouth were, Kevin, you will
likely never walk again, and if you do, you’ll
have braces on your legs up to your hips the
rest of your life. GREG WESTLAKE: As Kevin was
dealing with his new reality, his father continued to spiral. And in the spring of 2007,
he took his own life. His death hit the
family hard, but it wasn’t until the next summer
that Kevin contemplated following his father’s path. But as his mother
Shirley remembers, Kevin wanted
something different. SHIRLEY REMPEL: He didn’t
want to be like his dad because he saw how
that eats away at you. I’ve never seen anybody
with so much determination in all my life. And my mother and I get
our inspiration from him. KEVIN REMPEL: I
looked at my dad, and it was my motivation
of what not to do or who I didn’t want to be like. And I hate to say that. My dad was a great father. He was still a great man. But just how he looked at
life following his injury– he took on a victim mentality. You may not be responsible
for what happens to you, but you’re responsible
for what you do about it. And the sooner that you
accept responsibility for your situation, you can
start to take control back. GREG WESTLAKE: And that
is exactly what Kevin did. KEVIN REMPEL: I had no guarantee
I was going to get back. It was six weeks until
wiggled my first toe, so that when it finally
happened, I of course was excited, but
it also showed me the importance of having
faith and putting in the work even when you don’t
see the results. I then said to myself,
is if I can get one toe, I can get another toe. And I did. And then I got three toes,
and then another three toes. And so in those moments– I’m living through
them right now in the business,
is the truth, is that I’m trying to figure out
again, what’s the next step? You just have to continue to
maintain that faith and belief and show up every single day. GREG WESTLAKE: Kevin
kept showing up, and eventually all
of his hard work paid off when he regained the
ability to walk without braces. Following the break, Kevin walks
us through his Paralympic highs and lows. KEVIN REMPEL: I got
to that suicidal point probably around the four-month
mark after the games. I was definitely at rock bottom. MALE ANNOUNCER: Level Playing
Field will be right back. Welcome back to
Level Playing Field. FEMALE ANNOUNCER
Sport Explained– Para ice hockey. Para ice hockey rinks are
traditional ice hockey rinks but are converted to be
accessible for sledges. The ice surface is 60
metres long by 30 metres wide and is surrounded
by a wall called boards. There is a Centre red line
that divides the rink in half and two blue lines that create
30-metre defensive zones for each team. There are nine face-off dots,
the main being at Centre ice. The nets are set in
each defensive zone on opposite sides of the
ice surface, four metres from the end boards. Para hockey and ice hockey
use the same 2.5-centimetre by 7.6-centimetre
vulcanized rubber disk, otherwise known as a puck. But some of the other
equipment is quite different. The most notable is the
sledge, which players use to get around the ice surface. A sledge consists
of a plastic seat that’s connected to
a U-shaped frame made from aluminum or steel. The frame must be at least
80 centimetres in length and have a maximum
height of 20 centimetres from the bottom of
the seat to the ice. Beneath the seat are a set
of sharpened parallel blades. The blades range from
16 to 32 centimetres. Players then strap into their
seat using plastic ratchet straps for safety and comfort. The other piece of equipment
that sets Para ice hockey apart are the sticks, which
range from 65 centimetres to 100 centimetres in length. Also, players use two
sticks while on the ice. With one in each hand,
the sticks are dual-ended. On one side, there
are metal picks attached to help players
propel themselves around the playing surface. On the other side
is a curved blade that’s used for handling
and shooting the puck. And now you’re ready
to hit the ice. GREG WESTLAKE: Welcome back. I’m your host Greg Westlake. Now I know I’m
incredibly biased, but I love Para ice hockey. Everybody should
get out and try it. One way you can do that is
by using the Sledge Hockey Experience with Kevin Rempel. We met Kevin before the break. Now we continue his story. Despite permanent
atrophy in his legs, Kevin was able to walk again
for the first time in 2007. The following year,
another important moment in his recovery happened– he
found the sport Para hockey. He started for fun and
recreation with his local club, but his mom quickly
realized that this would be so much more. MAN: [INAUDIBLE] SHIRLEY REMPEL: Yeah! Nice! To watch him play on
Niagara Thunderblades, and he just seemed to have
natural ability about it. He caught on pretty
quick, and he’s running circles around everybody
and scoring goals and all that. And I’m just like, wow. It’s like, how can you
ask for anything more? Hey, Kevin on a breakaway! KEVIN REMPEL: I got on the ice,
and it got my heart rate up, got my sweat on, and it
was just that feeling again of being an athlete. And I just fell
in love instantly. GREG WESTLAKE: In
the 2010-11 season, he crack Team Canada’s
roster and went on to represent our
country at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. SPORTS ANNOUNCER:
Rempel with a shot. Huge stop. KEVIN REMPEL: It was super fun
getting to travel the world and play for Canada
was incredible. I learned from the best
players in the world. And the dream was getting
to the Paralympics, and then to actually make
that happen was surreal. SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Team
Canada for bronze. KEVIN REMPEL: I didn’t think
the post-Olympic crash was real. It totally is. It blindsided me. I thought I had it
all figured out. I came home, a bronze
medal, super happy, healthy. And it was great for about
two weeks, and all of sudden, didn’t matter anymore. It felt there was no reason
to get up out of bed, like the Olympics or Paralympics
is what pulls you up out of bed to pursue that
goal or that dream. And so having not set any
other new goals and dreams, it spun me into a
very downward spiral. I got to that suicidal
point probably around the four-month
mark after the games, and when I found myself in the
emergency psychiatric ward, I was definitely at rock bottom. GREG WESTLAKE: Once again,
Kevin chose a different path and soon realized what his
next true calling was– to allow corporate teams to try
Para ice hockey with the Sledge Hockey Experience. KEVIN REMPEL: This is the
Sledge Hockey Experience. I wanted to help the sport
grow, and I saw that instead of trying to chase after one
disabled person at a time, that if I can get the rest
of Canada to experience our country’s favourite
sport in a new way, I feel like I could help the
sport grow bigger and faster. I began playing on
a sled like this, and the challenges you’ll
experience on the ice today, specifically around
turning and stopping, were the exact same challenges
that I faced the first time I got on the ice. It’s going to be difficult. GREG WESTLAKE: As the
company has grown, Kevin has surrounded
himself with people eager to see the venture
succeed, one of those being his brand manager,
roommate, and friend Blair Bouchard. Blair believes it’s Kevin’s
resilience that sets him apart from other business owners. BLAIR BOUCHARD: I
think it’s important that he’s bridging
that gap between people with disabilities
and people without. And to be able to
change perspectives through Paralympic sport is
something that’s amazing, and I just want to keep
spreading that message. KEVIN REMPEL: Here I go. Here we go. Oh yeah! When you get on the ice, the
best thing about sledge hockey is that everybody is equal. You get out here, and it doesn’t
matter what your disability is, whether you have a
physical impairment or even a cognitive impairment. Everybody gets on here, and
we all just become equal, and it’s a level
playing field that we get to celebrate and enjoy
the game of hockey together. GREG WESTLAKE: Kevin
recognizes that he wouldn’t be where he is
today without people supporting him on
his long journey to mental wellness
and athletic success, and he just wants
to pay it forward. KEVIN REMPEL: I’m at
a point in my life now where I can give
back because I spent a lot of my years making
selfish decisions to get to where I wanted to be. And I just want to know that,
before I leave this Earth, that I gave as much as I took. GREG WESTLAKE: The work. Kevin is doing is simply
incredible we need more people out in their communities
pushing Para sport. If you would like to dive
deeper into Kevin’s story, please read his autobiography. And if you’re interested
and try and sledge hockey, go to Now, from one athlete who
is absolutely thriving in his post-Paralympic career,
we turn our focus to a swimmer just getting
started in the pool. Matthew Cabraja is a young
man on the brink of realizing his Paralympic dream. Tokyo 2020 is fast
approaching, and Matthew is one of Canada’s
brightest prospects. He already has two Canadian
records for his classification and is improving on his
personal best every day. But what is now such
a bright swimming career almost never was. Here’s Matthew
Cabraja and his story. MATTHEW CABRAJA: I love racing. For some people, I think
it’s all about the process, about correcting things
and making things better and just learning and advancing. But for me, it’s
just about getting up on that block when I
hear “take your marks,” set up, and just go. GREG WESTLAKE: At 16
years old, Matthew Cabraja feels at home in the pool. IAN ROOPNARINE: OK. MATTHEW CABRAJA: Ready to go? IAN ROOPNARINE: Yeah, hop on in. Mom’s down there. GREG WESTLAKE: But as his
mother Angie remembers, it wasn’t always that way. ANGIE CABRAJA: So
Matthew started singing at the
age of six months, and he did not like water. He did not– I would say he didn’t
feel comfortable. And at the time,
we did not really understand how very
little he was able to see. So as I think now,
he probably wasn’t able to see edge of the pool. So he actually was
very uncomfortable. GREG WESTLAKE: Matthew
was born with coloboma of optic nerve, a rare
defect in his optic nerve that limited his
vision from birth. He also suffered
retina detachments in both eyes, one as a baby and
the other at nine years old. It was at this time
Matthew thought he may lose swimming as well. Following his first year
as a competitive swimmer and his first of
three surgeries, Matthew’s club called
him in for a meeting. ANGIE CABRAJA: They wouldn’t
they came back after that. They felt it was
dangerous for Matthew to be– even though
he had some sight, they didn’t feel
comfortable letting him swim with other kids. I actually remember
Matthew and I driving from that meeting with the
coach, and I asked him, I said, do you really want to swim? And he said, yes. And part of me today
thinks that that was one of Matthew’s, like– I’m going to make it happen. And that’s when we started
searching, and we found Cobra. And that summer we
went for the trials, and they took Matthew in. Unfortunately, after
a couple of months of swimming
competitively, Matthew had another surgery where he
lost his sight completely. MATTHEW CABRAJA:
It was tough, but I think, for me, I just
took it in stride like I took a lot
of other things that happened to me in life. And I think that was a huge
factor in me getting back into the pool only two months
after losing vision and having a reason to get up
and do things and work towards some kind of goal. Because up at that point, I’d
never swum in a competition, and just even working
towards the goal of going on deck and diving
off the box at a real race was a driving factor
to just keep going. IAN ROOPNARINE: Go. GREG WESTLAKE: And keep going is
exactly what Matthew has done, and the person that has
guided him along the way is his coach at Cobra swim
club in Brampton, Ontario, Ian Roopnarine. IAN ROOPNARINE: He’s
a dreamer, and that’s why we get along so well. You can’t tell that kid
that he can’t do it. He’s going to tell you
that he’s going to fly. He’s going to fly. GREG WESTLAKE: Ian is able to
communicate with Matthew using a headset microphone and
waterproof headphone system, allowing him to
coach in real time. IAN ROOPNARINE: Heading
to the lane row. Perfect correction. Well done. It seems like every time we
make a joke about something, it actually just happens. We joked about
that we’d be on TV. We joked about sponsorship. We joked about breaking records. We joked about
travelling the world. All that stuff was just
him and I dreaming up stuff in practises, and
all of it is coming true. [LAUGHTER] MATTHEW CABRAJA: Finally
much, Matthew, too much. The one thing that we did
dream up was at the tryout. I spoke to Matthew and I said,
I will put you on the team, and the only thing
you have to do is promise me that when
we go to the Olympics, you’ll bring home that medal. And now it’s a very big,
big potential of happening. GREG WESTLAKE: Coming
up after the break, we find out what Matthew
does when he isn’t breaking records in the pool. MATTHEW CABRAJA:
It’s really good to have an outlet with such
a high stress like swimming. MALE ANNOUNCER:
Level Playing Field continues after the break. Level Playing Field
continues now. What it Takes to be a
Paralympian with Brad Bowden. BRAD BOWDEN: I’d like to
say that I was the one that did it all, but really, I
was backed by a great support system. And I think any great athlete,
if you look close enough into their personal
lives, you’ll see that there is a huge
system of people that have been supportive and helped them,
whether it’s financially or getting to practises. And I look back, and my
grandparents got me to every practise that I could, rain
or shine, winter storms, or whatever. And people always ask
me, how did you do it? And it’s like, I had
every single opportunity to get better as an athlete and
pursue my passion as far as I could because those people
gave me the opportunity. GREG WESTLAKE: Welcome back. I’m Greg Westlake. Brad Bowden definitely
knows what it takes. He is a four-time Paralympian
in the sport of Para ice hockey and a gold medalist in
the sport of wheelchair basketball from 2004. That puts Brad in
very select company of people who have won a
gold medal in both the winter and the summer Paralympic Games. For now, Matthew
Carbaja has his sights set on his first Paralympics. Let’s rejoin the
16-year-old in the pool. [MUSIC PLAYING] GREG WESTLAKE: Having no sight
create some unique challenges. In training, Matthew
needs his own lanes so he doesn’t bump
into other swimmers, something Cobra is
able to accommodate. He also needs someone
outside the pool to let him know when
he reaches the end. Prior to his last
stroke, Matthew was tapped on the
shoulder with a long pole and executes a turn,
continuing his stroke in the opposite direction. Coaches handle the tapping
at large competitions, but his parents Steve and Angie
are called to duty at smaller meets and also in training. ANGIE CABRAJA: In the beginning,
I was very, very nervous. It was very hard for me. And even now, Matthew says
to me I tap like his mom. If I’m on deck with
him, actually that’s the place where I prefer to be. I feel that adrenaline, and
I feel like part of his team. IAN ROOPNARINE: Man, you got a
good tapper there today, buddy. Good tapper. Mom’s on top of her game! GREG WESTLAKE: When
Matthew is not in the pool or achieving academic
success in high school, he is at home with his parents
and his sister Victoria. He loves to be creative
and enjoys building models with toy plastic
bricks, something that often becomes a family affair. But more often
than not, he can be found practising his other
creative outlet, music, in his basement studio,
either pounding out a bass line on his drums or
creating an original riff on his electric guitar. MATTHEW CABRAJA: Since I
was really, really little I always listened
to music, and I guess it made me want to
play music and write music. And I don’t know what
brought me to it, but it’s just become a
really big part of my life that, when anything goes wrong,
I find resetting and getting my mind off everything, I can
almost just let my emotions go, which is really good to
have an outlet with such a high-stress sport
like swimming. [MUSIC PLAYING] GREG WESTLAKE: Whether
making music or setting records in the pool, Matthew
is destined for great things. That is in no small part because
of his second family at Cobra. And his immediate
family is so grateful. ANGIE CABRAJA: Big thank you. And I think they know that. We are very thankful. Cobra at that time became
a big part of our family. So you spend lots
of time at the pool, around the pool
with other families, so it’s very important to
feel part of that big family. And I remember one of
Matthew’s first competitions– so it was actually
other families that were cheering him on. GREG WESTLAKE: Matthew
is so grateful for all the support he has
received from his club and everything his
sport has done for him. MATTHEW CABRAJA:
It’s a tough sport, but I think just
the amount of things you learned from swimming
and the amount of experiences you get through swimming,
or any sport really, is just super valuable for life and
super valuable for just growth and just becoming
a better person. GREG WESTLAKE: And
that is exactly what Ian has witnessed
in his seven years as Matthew’s coach,
an evolution. IAN ROOPNARINE: I am
extremely proud of this kid. I’ve been there from
the very beginning, and to see that we’re not
even close to being done. He’s got much more plans
to surprise the world. Tokyo is not the end of it, and
swimming is not the end of it. GREG WESTLAKE: For
now, though, he is focused on putting in
the work necessary to reach his goal of representing Canada
on the Paralympics stage. MATTHEW CABRAJA: I
think for one it’d be amazing just to represent
such a great country and such a great team. But just to be at
that high of a level and stand up on those blocks
with that huge crowd cheering and dive into that
pool and feel the water would just be a whole
nother level of achievement and a whole nother milestone
for me just to cross that. As we keep getting
closer, it’s becoming more and more of a
reality, and that’s part of the craziest part. [MUSIC PLAYING] GREG WESTLAKE: I know I’ll be
cheering for Matthew when he hits the water in Tokyo 2020. Now, it’s important to note that
Matthew developed his own pole that he uses for tapping. Picture a 2 and 1/2
metre long white cane with a large foam
ball on the end of it. Now, Matthew could have
kept this design for himself and used it as a competitive
advantage over his rivals. Instead, he chose to share it
with the other blind swimmers so they too can maximize
their potential. What a remarkable young man. Thank you for joining us on
Level Playing Field, where we witnessed the power of sport
to heal, educate, transform, and inspire. I’m Greg Westlake. Get in the game. MALE ANNOUNCER: Host– Greg Westlake. Producer– Ted Cooper. Videographer– Matthew McGurk. Integrated Described
Video Specialist– Simon Cubid. Audio Post– Mark Phoenix. Post-Production Superviso
Janice Sivitilli. Graphics– Mike Smith. Senior Producer–
Michelle Dudas. President and CEO– David Errington. Copyright 2019
Accessible Media Inc.

Level Playing Field, Ep. 1: Para Ice Hockey
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