Wednesday, March 6, 2002
Lord of the rinks
By JEFFREY M. SPOONER -- Ottawa Sun
Ottawa athlete shoots for gold at Paralympics
The first time I saw Canadian Paralympic sledge hockey player Herve Lord, he was carrying a chesterfield -- by himself.
In fact, he was holding it over his head, comfortably balanced on one end, as he climbed the porch steps of his new home.
Hardly what you would expect from someone forced to negotiate every stride with the aid of an artificial limb. However, Lord would be the first to remind us that life is often filled with surprises.
"I was on my way home from work," he said, "when it all happened, just like that."
The it was a horrific car accident that sent the then 25-year-old Lord to a Calgary medical centre, fighting for his life.
"The doctors told me if I had been a few kilometres further away, I wouldn't have made it,'' said Lord, 43, who will compete at the Salt Lake City Paralympics, which start tomorrow. '`As it was, they apparently lost me on the table for 46 or 47 seconds anyway."
Lord spent almost 12 months in Foothills Hospital where he underwent 11 surgeries, including the amputation of his right leg.
As he endured countless hours of physiotherapy, interrupted by periodic outbreaks of severe infection, the thought of some day representing his country at the Olympic level could not have been further from his mind.
Around six months into his recovery, he remembers thinking he had a choice to make.
"In a situation like mine, you either accept it or you don't. If you choose to accept it, then you go forward in life. If you don't, you are going to be miserable. I chose to go forward."
And with that Lord threw himself into his recuperation program.
Realizing his days in high-rise construction were over, Lord soon taught himself to type and eventually moved to Ottawa. He enrolled in a vocational training program through the city's Rehabilitation Centre, where he acquired basic office skills.
Looking to vent his pent-up emotional energy, Lord turned to sports -- a life-long hobby. After trying his hand at wheelchair basketball and tennis, he eventually focused on track and field. Lord invested a tremendous effort in developing his upper-body strength and cardio-vascular conditioning in the hopes of joining Canada's Paralympic track team.
Ultimately, Lord found his niche in sledge hockey.
"The first time I tried sledge hockey, it was weird. At that time, the sleds were much heavier than they are today."
Lord, though, was a natural.
"I have always enjoyed doing things that required me to push myself. And learning to propel yourself around the ice using only your upper body required an incredible level of physical fitness."
In 1991, Lord was named to Canada's first national sledge hockey team. Since then, he has represented his country at the '94 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer and the '98 Nagano Games.
Lord's enthusiasm for sledge hockey is infectious.
"I compare sledge hockey at this (international) level to football, basketball and track and field,'' said Lord. '`Football because of the roughness, basketball because of the agility, and track and field because of the incredible level of fitness required to participate."
Asked which of the three aspects he enjoys most, Lord replied, "The hitting! To me, hockey is a very physically demanding sport. That is what I love.
"Being taken into the boards in sledge hockey is like running into a brick wall. Rather than hitting the upper parts that are designed to give, we hit the solid base only a few inches above the ice."
Given the frequent colliding of sleds, plus the use of small hockey sticks, injuries are common.
"Hey, if you don't want to get hurt, play cards," said Lord, assistant captain of the team.
Lord maintains a demanding training and practice schedule over and above his daily responsibilities at Statistics Canada.
But he doesn't complain. Lord has high hopes for his squad's chances in Salt Lake City. Entering the competition, Canada's team is ranked first in the world.
"We have been climbing the ladder since '94," said Lord. "Now it's our turn. 2002 is our year."
2002 Games Paralympics Coverage