By Mike Pattison
Earlier this month Ottawa welcomed the top wheelchair rugby competitors from across the country for the 2019 National Championships. The tournament, which was held from May 3-5 at the University of Ottawa, featured local competitor Ben Perkins, who has made a name for himself as a top defender on the Ottawa Stingers as well as with Team Ontario and the Canadian national team.
Perkins and his Ontario Thunder teammates finished at the top of their division’s standings after finishing 4-0 in round robin play, earning them a berth in the gold medal game against the Alberta Roughnecks.
“As Ontario we’ve won the Campbell Cup (the trophy awarded to the national champions in wheelchair rugby) more times than anyone else, so it’s not so much cockiness that we felt, but rather we felt comfortable,” Perkins said about his team’s hot start to the tournament.
That comfort would quickly fade away as the momentum that the Thunder carried into the Campbell Cup championship match could not carry them to victory. The Roughnecks squeaked away with a 63-62 win thanks to game-winning score that came with only two seconds left on the clock.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full because Alberta has been a very strong team this year,” said Perkins. “But to represent Ontario in Ottawa this year meant we needed to be more on the ball with more fans and family coming out to watch us play.”
It may not have been the result that he wanted, but for Perkins the silver medal is yet another accomplishment for someone who was hesitant to pick up the sport just over a decade ago.
Originally from North Augusta, Perkins discovered wheelchair rugby while he was at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre after suffering a serious neck injury. A lover of contact sports, he played rugby and hockey throughout his life but was unsure if he wanted to make the transition to wheelchair rugby. However, conversations he had with members of the Stingers, which included current team president Patrice Dagenais, combined with his natural competitive spirit, led him to join the team.
“I was pretty low on the totem pole and met a lot of good guys who helped me advance my game and then as time moved on I was named co-captain of the team and have been trying to teach some of the newer guys the game, (because) I was in those shoes not that long ago,” said Perkins.
With the Stingers, Perkins has been able to work on his game while taking on talent from across the province as well as south of the border against teams from the United States. He has become a premier defender with solid passing skills that help his team in tough defensive situations. Most importantly as a defender, he relies on his physicality.
“It’s a lot of contact out there, a lot of first hits as well. It’s taking a lot of beatings, but dishing them out as well,” explained Perkins.
Perkins first joined Ontario’s provincial team in 2008, after growing and developing his game with the Stingers. He’s been a constant on the squad that’s picked up 7 Campbells Cups over the past 11 years.
His experiences in the local and provincial scene prepared him for Canada’s national team, which he became a member of last year. As a player for Canada’s squad last year he earned a bronze medal at Rugbymania 2018 in Prague, Czech Republic.
“There’s no better feeling of going to a tournament in another country and being able to put on the maple leaf. It’s humbling, it makes you proud, it makes you competitive, it drives you,” said Perkins.
Since then he has traveled to Denmark to earn a bronze medal with Canada in late April’s Musholm Cup. He says he plans to keep wearing the Maple Leaf as long as it continues to push him to be the best athlete he can be.