Brad Hunter never heard of sitting volleyball until the fall of 2018, four years after he got hit by a train and lost his left leg.
But this upcoming month, between Aug. 23 and Sept. 1, the 29-year-old will get the chance to play this sport for his country at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
If Team Canada manages to nab a first place finish in this competition, Hunter will then get to travel to Tokyo, Japan for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” said Hunter, who is originally from Thompson and currently lives in Brandon. “But I think I’ve put in enough work with training and practice that I think I’m going to be doing good.”
Hunter is one of the newest members of the Canadian men’s sitting volleyball team, which consists of 10 other athletes with disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 37.
The Thompson native recently said that he never had any intention of trying out for this team until he had a chance encounter with sitting volleyball veteran Chris Bird last September.
“I was just out at a convenience store getting some ice cream and this guy came out of his vehicle and he was also missing a leg,” recalls Hunter. “He said ‘Are you interested in playing some volleyball at all?’ I said ‘Yeah, sure.’ He was like ‘Great! It’s called sitting volleyball. You have to have one butt cheek on the ground while you play.’”
“It’s funny because he actually thought I was another guy … my teammate Matt Lisoway,” Hunter continued. “So it was completely by chance I got to start playing sitting volleyball.”
Over the next couple months, Bird went about introducing Hunter to the sport and how it differs from standing volleyball.
Outside of contending with a smaller court and lower net, players are also required to keep a portion of their torso on the ground at all times.
Luckily, Hunter had the fundamentals of the game pretty well covered, since he played volleyball, along with a variety of other sports, as a student at Burntwood Elementary School and R.D. Parker Collegiate here in Thompson.
“My skills carried over, but the game is way different and so much faster,” he said. “When guys hit at you the reaction time has to be 10 times faster, because we’re right there.”
Despite this steep learning curve, Hunter still managed to impress the coaching staff during Team Canada’s recent selection camp in Edmonton, and was officially added to the roster in May.
Hunter told the Thompson Citizen that he got emotional after hearing this news, since he had completely written off playing sports altogether following his accident back in August 2014.
“I was almost in tears because I played sports all throughout my life and then when they said ‘you made the team’ … I never thought anything like that would ever happen,” he said. “It’s still kind of amazing to me right now, especially going to Peru.”
For any other person with disabilities who has aspirations of playing sports at this level, Hunter said there are lots of opportunities available as long as you are willing to put in the work.
“Just reach out to any sporting place and just see what’s out there,” he said. “Don’t ever give up on playing sports or thinking you can’t have an active lifestyle.”
The Canadian men’s sitting volleyball team is currently ranked16th in the world and 3rd in the Americas region.
This squad managed to capture a bronze medal at the previous Parapan American Games, which took place in Toronto four years ago.