By Brandi Awad
When Todd Nicholson became a paraplegic following a car accident on his way home from prom, he never thought he would be able to play ice hockey again. But, after being introduced to Paralympic sports during his stay at the Royal Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre, everything changed for the Ottawa-based athlete.
Five Paralympic Games appearances, a gold (2006), silver (1998), and bronze (1994) medal later, Nicholson will be Team Canada’s chef de mission at the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.
The three-time medallist, who is now 47 years old, has made quite the impact in para-sports through his 25-year tenure as a para-athlete. Nicholson served as Team Canada’s captain for 15 years, acted as their flagbearer in 2006, and will now take on the role as their official spokesperson.
Nicholson says he couldn’t be more excited.
“I’m really looking forward to being very vocal in the stands, being somebody who can cheer on our athletes and our coaches… I want to be that support system for them and give them that extra push when they may need it.”
In his agenda as chef de mission, he hopes to bring awareness to para-sports and increase Canadians’ interest.
“We’ve got to ensure its not just sport for two weeks and Paralympic goes away,” he explains. “How can we ensure that our athletes become household names? When I say somebody like Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky, you know what sports those athletes play and who they are. I would love to be able to say some of our Paralympic athletes’ names and have people know who they are.”
One of the way he’s hoping to do this is through the use of social media.
“We really need to focus our work on how we get the profile of our athletes to grow,” Nicholson continues. “It’s all about helping those athletes improve on their brand and getting that messaging out there and with social media and everything that’s out there now, it’s a lot easier today than it was back in my day…[as chef de mission] hopefully I can provide them with the knowledge they need and share the message with the media that we need some help to get our athletes names out there.”
The para-hockey legend has helped pave the way for many of these athletes heading to the Games. Aside from his legacy on the ice, he’s devoted much of his time to the Paralympic movement and invested in the growth of the sport. For the past eight years, he has sat as a member of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Athlete Council and he only recently finished his role as a chairperson of the IPC’s Athlete Council.
“I think the biggest thing I want people to know is that these are all very talented, strong athletes who have devoted a lot of time to get to where they are and that they have worked very hard,” Nicholson says. “They’re all so well versed in terms of knowledge, experience, they’re physically fit and ready to go.”
One of the messages he’s bringing to the forefront is the importance of being inclusive in sport.
“What I’m hoping to leave behind following these games is looking at what we can do to ensure that we get more people involved,” he explains.
However, above all, Nicholson says Canada is looking to improve on their performance from the 2014 Games in Sochi. That year, they earned a total of 16 medals (seven gold, two silver, and seven bronze).
And, after hanging up his hockey jersey in 2010 upon retirement, he’s really just looking forward to wearing the maple leaf once again.
“For the last eight years, I haven’t been able to wear the Team Canada colours or a jersey or any of those things because at the international level I need to be impartial, I needed to represent everybody, but this is going to be a nice finish for what I’ve accomplished to date… It’s going to be amazing to put on the Team Canada colours again and wear the read and white on my chest.”