Brad Bowden

Local Hero: Brad Bowden is thoughtful and well-versed about both sport and disability.

November 18, 2008 | | Back Issues | Community | Local Heroes | Winter 2008

Brad Bowden: One of our 2008 Local Heroes

Gold-Medal Paralympian In Hockey And Basketball

Thoughtful and well-versed about both sport and disability. Articulate, level-headed. A world-class athlete who is proud of his remarkable accomplishments, but without the smug attitude that might come with them. A hockey and basketball jock who is interested in writing, and who is currently studying sculpture as part of an art and design program at Georgian College.

How many like that are you going to meet?

Brad Bowden, former student of East Garafraxa Public School and Westside Secondary School in Orangeville, won gold medals in both basketball at the summer 2004 paralympic games in Athens, and sledge hockey at the 2006 winter games in Torino. A list of all this 25-year-old’s medals would more than fill this page.

Though Brad may use a wheelchair, the result of a spinal deformity known as sacral agenesis, it’s a mistake to think that limits his abilities. On the contrary, he feels that in some ways it’s a gift. “It’s given me so many opportunities,” he says. “I’ve been on two national teams, and travelled around the world. As an able-bodied athlete, there’s so much competition, I likely wouldn’t have done that.”

Brad, who grew up with his grandparents in Orton, credits his grandmother, Colleen Nelson, as the driving force behind his career. “She did so much for me. When I was young she quit her job to look after me, and she got me into sports. I didn’t even want to play at first, but she insisted.” Sadly, she died not long after the Torino games. Another important influence has been Patrick Anderson, a well-known wheelchair basketball player who grew up in Fergus. “We’re friends now, and I know he’ll make fun of me for this, but he really was a role model,” Brad says.

How have sports contributed to his development? “From sports and being on a team I learned values. It’s made me a better human being. It has built my character and given me self-confidence. It helps you to realize what happens when you push yourself. Sometimes I’ve lain in bed at night thinking ‘Wow, I did that.’”

Named the most sportsmanlike player on the national basketball team in 2004, the 2006 recipient of the Province of Ontario Male Athlete with a Disability Award, and the 2008 season’s most valuable player in sledge hockey for Team Canada, it seems Brad has learned those lessons well.

Currently competing in sledge hockey only, once this year of college is complete Brad will spend a year training for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver. “It’s going to be the biggest tournament of my life and, of course, it’s at home.”

Though he may go on playing at the national level for some time, Brad’s also busy developing a portfolio for a future career in media arts. Some day, we may see him in front of a camera as a media personality.

“I want to work to help get rid of people’s stereotypes about the disabled,” he says, “and give back to my sport.” He also gives talks to school children. The gymnasium at East Garafraxa Public School, where he was once the only student in a wheelchair, is now named after him.

No one is perfect, and thankfully for the egos of the rest of us, all-round powerhouse Brad Bowden does have one real disability: “I’m bad at math.”

About the Author More by Jeff Rollings

Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Caledon.

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