This article was originally published on The Toronto Star website.
It was 15 years ago, but Adam Purdy can still easily bring to mind his best moment from the Sydney Paralympics.
It wasn’t when he touched the pool wall for victory in backstroke or when he stepped on the podium to get his gold medal reward; it was when he looked up into the stands and saw his entire family there.
“My brother’s face was all painted up and my dad had crazy red stuff in his hair,” said Purdy, who won two gold medals at the 2000 Paralympic Games. “Hearing my national anthem with them up in the crowd, wow, it was such an emotional experience.”
Purdy, who was nominated to the Canadian Parapan Am Games team on Monday, came out of retirement last year, at the age of 34, to try to recreate that Sydney feeling.
Not just for himself, but for his children.
“Sydney was amazing,” he said. “Australians really respect sport regardless of ability or disability … sport is sport and it doesn’t matter if you are missing a leg or you have an intellectual disability: you put the effort in, you get the effort out.”
And that’s what he hopes nine-year-old Olivia and four-year-old Simon will get to see at the Toronto Parapan Am Games this August where Purdy will be one of 220 Canadian athletes competing in 14 sports.
“Paralympic sport is a good example of what’s real, it’s not all going to be perfect strokes in the pool, you might see someone splashing around and look a bit different,” he said. “I hope my kids are able to see that those athletes are high-level elite athletes who have adapted their disability to the water and their strokes.”
That’s what the London, Ont., native had to do because of arthrogryposis, which left him with twisted and fused joints that limit motion and muscle growth.
“There’s lack of muscle in my arms which means I’ve got to make other things better, I have to make my core and my legs stronger.”
So strong that he was the 100-metre backstroke world record holder in his S6 classification from 1998 to 2004.
In 2007, the three-time Paralympian retired to spend more time with his wife, Korin, their then-young daughter and try to find a life outside the pool.
But, by last year, the pull of competing in a home Games was too great to fight and he knew it was time to come back to his sport.
“To be able to swim fast in my back yard,” he said. “(That’s) an opportunity that I couldn’t really pass up.”
And, fresh off winning his 50-metre butterfly and 100-metre backstroke races at the team trials this past weekend in Toronto where the 40 swimmers who will represent Canada at the Parapan Am Games were picked, he is confident that he’s on his way back to his former speed.
“We’ve got a fantastic team, a young team and a few veterans,” he said, referring to himself and the likes of Benoit Huot, a nine-time Paralympic gold medallist.
Canada’s overall goal is to finish top three in the medal count at the Parapans, which run August 7-15. Ticket sales started Monday at