No medal, but great time


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October 11, 2016 12:00 AM

BUMP Vermilion's Jolan Wong, (left) captain of Team Canada's floor volleyball team, recently returned from Rio De Janeiro where the group competed in the 2016 Paralympics

When Jolan Wong and the rest of Team Canada’s sitting volleyball crew showed up in Rio De Janeiro for the Paralympics they knew they were the underdogs.
The team was ranked eight out of eight going in, members hoping they could upset some teams and steal the fifth or sixth spot, and even though Canada only moved up to seventh, the athletes were still able to inspire chants from the excited audience.
Wong, who was raised in Vermilion and lives in Pembroke, Ont., said despite not taking home a medal, it was still the most amazing experience of her life.
“At the games, when we played Brazil and we’d just lost to them, we were walking out of the stadium and the fans just started chanting Canada! Canada!,” she recalled.
“And it was just a feeling, I don’t even know how to describe, you had just played the home country and they were still cheering for you and cheering you on.”
Team Canada was in the same pool as Brazil, the Netherlands and Ukraine, all three of which had competed at the Paralympics before, and even though the Canuck volleyballers were giving their first ever go at the event, Wong said they came close to beating the two European countries.
But when facing off against the host country, which also happened to be the first game of the 2016 Paralympics, she said the team couldn’t put up much of a fight.
“I think everyone had the jitters and it wasn’t the outcome we were looking for,” she said.
Wong, who is also team captain, put in a solid year of training after Team Canada qualified for the Paralympics at the Pan Am games, and a total of eight years since she began her journey in floor volleyball.
The 26-year-old even moved to Edmonton with her family so she could train with her team mates through the summer, noting that her practice schedule became crazy busy.
But heading to Rio wasn’t just a goal of winning a medal, it was getting there and qualifying for a chance to play that Wong said made all the hard work worth it.
“It was pretty amazing—working so hard, lots of us, myself for the past eight years, to finally get to the Paralympics, it felt pretty good,” she said.
“Especially a couple days before our first game we got to go check out the competition venue and we walked into the empty stadium, the spotlight was just on the court, no other lights were on, and just walking into that, it felt kind of like your dreams finally came true and all the hard work you put in has finally paid off.”
Wong’s mother, Darlene Brunner, said her daughter is a lifelong sports enthusiast and when she was in her early teens was even scouted by an Edmonton soccer team for her goalkeeping skills.
But one August, when she was 13 years old, she started complaining about a knee injury and in December of that year they found out the young athlete had osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
Doctors ended up having to remove her leg, something that would mean the end of sports for a lot of players, but that wasn’t enough to deter Wong, not by a long shot.
“After that happened she played hockey, and she didn’t play hockey before, but she played hockey with the Vermilion midget girls team and she also played stand up volley ball with the school team here,” Brunner said.
“And she did track and field too when she went to high school, all while on a prosthetic leg.”
Brunner said Wong had always been active and she always let her daughter try whatever she wanted, a freedom that may have led to the proudest moment she’s had of her daughter’s sports career.
“Qualifying for the Paralympics,” she said, which made her ecstatic when she heard the news.
“But I’ve always been proud of her wherever she went and whatever she did, I never stopped her from anything.”
Though Team Canada’s schedule hasn’t been released yet, Wong said the group is heading to the sitting volleyball World Championships in the Netherlands in 2018 and the 2019 Pan Am games in Lima, Peru.
So it seems for Wong that all the hard training isn’t quite over just yet.

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