Olympics veteran Paul Gauthier’s toughest wins
Boccia world champion Paul Gauthier, who hails from British Columbia, Canada, is gearing up for his fourth Paralympics this September (see sidebar). The event will be a family affair, with his wife Sarah supporting him on the field as his sport assistant and his foster son Derek cheering as Paul competes in the individual and pairs divisions. Four years ago, Gauthier, who also grew up in foster care, decided to adopt 11-year-old Derek as part of their family. Derek came to Gauthier completely mute as the result of an anxiety disorder. But now, at 15, Derek is able to write and communicate verbally, thanks to hard work and dedication from Gauthier and his wife Sarah.
beijingkids had a chance to talk to Gauthier about how setbacks can lead to determination, perseverance and stronger relationships.
What kind of disability do you have?
I have cerebral palsy, a condition that occurs due to a lack of oxygen before the age of 3. It affects different parts of the brain, which results in differing abilities from one person with CP to another.
Tell me about your foster family.
I started living with my foster mom when I was 6 weeks old. She was an amazing woman who had 65 foster children come through her home. A few of us stayed there long-term, two foster sisters and a foster brother, who I am still close to today. I left the foster home when I was 13 to live in a group home because it was very challenging for my foster mom to take care of my physical needs as she was aging. I stayed in contact with her until she passed away.
When did you start playing boccia, and what do you like the most about it?
I first tried it close to 20 years ago and made my first national team 17 or 18 years ago. I love the strategy involved in the sport. It’s awesome to be able to analyze each shot that you make to see not only how it will affect the play at that time, but also in future shots. You have to determine how your opponent will react and how you will capitalize on the situation.
What are some of the frustrations or challenges in playing boccia?
There are so many variables that affect the way that the ball rolls, which is the biggest challenge – you have to deal with the fact that controlling everything is impossible. There is also a huge mental component to boccia, and it is at times challenging to stay in the right mental state – to not get angry at a bad shot, but focus on the shot you want to make.
How did you decide to adopt Derek?
Derek was placed into a foster home after his grandmother died. I saw him on a regular basis and was concerned because he was making no progress at the home. At that point he was no longer communicating verbally. I decided to have him be a part of my family because he needed a secure and loving environment, and I knew that I could provide this.
How do you help Derek improve his physical and verbal skills?
I first had Derek examined at a children’s hospital, where they diagnosed him with selective mutism, which is a social anxiety disorder. At the time he was not speaking to anyone, nor was he gesturing, writing, or using any alternative means of communicating. I found an SM specialist in Philadelphia who provided us with a wealth of useful and practical information to help Derek. At home, we started with writing and with “yes-no” gestures. We then moved on to mouthing, in which Derek forms words with his mouth without making sounds, then to making simple sounds, to finally combining the sounds to make words.
Derek now speaks to both Sarah and me in a loud whisper and will communicate with people that he feels comfortable with. There has definitely been a lot of work involved, but it has been worth it to see his progress. He is also now using a computer-based communication device to help him participate more fully in the community and with others.
What are your expectations in the Beijing Paralympics?
I expect to play well with my team, giving strong direction and being an effective team captain. My goal is to bring home two gold medals. I am fully prepared, mentally and physically.
The Game of Boccia
Although similar to the game of bocce, boccia was designed to be played as a Paralympic sport for athletes with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects motor skills. Individuals, pairs, or teams of three can play the sport.
The aim of the game is for players to throw leather balls (red or blue) as close as possible to a white target ball, also known as the jack. Players can move the balls with their hands or feet, and even with an assistive device if a competitor’s disability is severe. At the end of each round, the referee measures the distance of the balls closest to the jack and awards points accordingly. The team or player with the highest number of points at the end of play is the winner.
Boccia players are assigned to one of four sport classes (BC1, BC2, BC3 and BC4) depending on their functional ability.
Paul Gauthier will be participating in the boccia games from Sep 6-12 at Fencing Hall of the National Convention Center. Check ticketing and scheduling information at http://en.paralympic.beijing2008.cn.