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A life changing career moment 28/09/2011

Natalie Cooper interviews Paralympic athlete Patrice Dagenais on the challenges he has had to face and overcome following his injury, and his dedication to pursue his dream of becoming a sporting champion.

A life changing career moment

Click to jump to section

  1. Facing adversity
  2. Patrice Dagenais: Paralympian
  3. Determination & drive
  4. Don't give up
  5. Mental preparation
  6. Training
  7. Why should you never give up your dream?
  8. Downloadable document

Facing adversity

We can all learn lessons from Patrice. What it takes to persevere, to stare adversity in the face and go on to be successful in our own right, whatever obstacles are thrown in our path.

In 2012, Patrice wants to represent his country and take his place in the Canadian Paralympic Team. His sport is wheelchair rugby. Currently 18 athletes have been chosen to train in preparation for his sport in the lead up to the Paralympic games in 2012. There are only 12 spaces available.

Patrice Dagenais is 26 years old. He’s from Ontario, Canada. In June 2003, at the age of 18, he took a summer job working for his father’s construction company, building residential houses. For Patrice, this would become a life changing career moment. While working on the 2nd floor of a house, he fell into a stairway hole, all the way down to the basement. He landed on his back with his head severely hitting the ground and broke his C6 vertebrae which damaged his spinal cord.

As a result of the fall, he was instantly paralyzed from the chest down and lost some function in both his arms and hands. He had to have surgery to replace the broken vertebrae in his neck with a piece of bone from his hip. Patrice then spent five months at a rehabilitation center, learning how to get through day-to-day situations as a quadriplegic. This is his story.

Patrice Dagenais: Paralympian

Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed playing sports and I always looked up to the professional athletes I saw on television. Whether it was watching professional hockey or the Olympics, one thing I knew for sure was that my dream would be to compete at the highest level of a sport. I was playing junior hockey in St-Isidore, Ontario, Canada. It is a competitive league ranging from ages 16 to 21.

My parents and my older brother encouraged me to play many sports at a very young age. Whether it was competitive or recreational, I was always motivated to compete. My spare time from school or work was dedicated to sports; it’s what made me happy. I believe the drive to compete has been inside me since my early years and it will never be taken away.

When the injury happened, at first, I thought it would be possible for me to walk again, but after months went by I started to realize that I would have to spend my new life in a wheelchair. I was then hoping to get as much arm and hand function as possible so I could be able to push my own chair. I didn’t know what to expect out of this new life. I thought it would be very hard to enjoy life after losing so many things in the instance of a day. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play sports anymore and I would have to depend on other people just to get through my day-to-day living. Thankfully I was wrong.

I went through so many emotions that it’s hard to describe them all. I went from being in total shock from hearing the doctor’s horrible news about my condition, to having hope of a full recovery. Then I felt joy when I saw a positive sign of recovery to disappointment and sadness when that hope was taken away. I also felt some anger, asking myself why it had to happen to me and what did I do to deserve this.

After spending a year and half on physiotherapy sessions, I realized that I wasn’t gaining any more function and that I would probably never walk again so I decided that I had to accept my new destiny. My hockey career was over so I had to find something else to fulfil my competitive drive. Two wheelchair rugby players from my town had been trying to convince me to come to a practice in Ottawa. I finally decided to go give it a try and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Determination & drive

Where does your determination and drive to keep on competing come from?

It is simple, I love it. After not being able to compete for so long after my injury, I realized how much I missed competition. In my first year playing wheelchair rugby I received some good feedback from veteran players and team Canada coaches, so I told myself that it would be possible for me to compete at a high level. I then decided to be serious about this new dream and to start training regularly. I’m a class 1.0 therefore I have a defensive chair. My job on the court is to set picks and create openings for players with a higher class who have better ball control abilities. After playing rugby for six years, I now have to work as hard as I ever did to realize my dream and be selected to represent Canada in London 2012.

Don't give up

What advice would you give to people who say: ‘I can’t do this’, or feel ready to give up?

I would tell them that playing wheelchair rugby is the best thing that ever happened to me. It completely changed my life for the best. I’m fortunate to have met great people along the way and to have the chance to travel to numerous countries. It might be hard work at times but it’s this hard work that will be rewarding in the future.

Who helped you to get through the tough times? What advice would you offer to those who aren’t surrounded by positive influences?

My family and my friends are the people that got me through tough times but later on, the people I learned the most from, are wheelchair rugby players. They showed me how good my life can be if I put the effort into it.

My advice to those who aren’t surrounded by positive influences would be to try to meet and talk to people that went through the same obstacles you did because you will then realize that whatever those obstacles are, you can still have a great life.

Mental preparation

What mental preparation do you undertake to strive to be the best you can be?

I’m imagining myself in the team Canada uniform in front of a sold out crowd in London playing in the gold medal game. Every time I need a little more motivation, I think about this picture in my head and that’s all it takes for me to keep pushing myself.


What are you doing to guarantee yourself a space for the games in 2012?

I’m dedicating my whole year to rugby. I’m going to train harder than I ever trained before to be physically and mentally ready for the selection camp in March 2012. I’m also going to spend a lot of time training in different cities in Canada where most of my teammates are so I can get used to working with different athletes.

Why should you never give up your dream?

Because if you do everything right and you give it everything you’ve got, at the end of the day, you will have no regrets. I believe that when I will realize my dream, all the hard work and sacrifice I did in the past will be totally worth it.

Downloadable document

Life-changing-career-moment.pdf (773kb Pdf)

Natalie Cooper, editor, Changeboard

Natalie Cooper, editor, Changeboard

I’m a storyteller at heart. Do you help develop your employees, provide them with a career that gives meaning to their life or offer advice to help empower people? If you have a story to share, please email: