These athletes put their all into it

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Sarnia boccia star Josh Vander Vies has his own website.

London swimmer Brad Sales has his own big league-style playing card. Dorchester wheelchair rugby veteran David Willsie appeared in the documentary movie Murderball, which shone the spotlight on the wickedly rough-and-tumble sport.

True to form, the promotion-friendly trio took a break from their jet-set lifestyle to pump up the Ontario Paralympic Summer Championships, which are being held in London July 6-9 on the Western campus and at Fanshawe Lake.

The summer weekend event, which was awarded to a London that host chair John LaPorta describes as "Ontario's most accessible city," will feature boccia, powerlifting, wheelchair rugby, goalball, wheelchair tennis and a demonstration of adaptive rowing.

A track and field competition will feature the Canadian Paralympic championships, which will give the nation's best up-and-comers a last-ditch chance to qualify for the worlds.

Fresh from nationals in Halifax, Willsie sees the championships as a chance to showcase a strong contingent from Ontario and answer the endless questions on his Murderball involvement.

"Not very often do you get to appear in an Oscar-nominated film," he said. "People don't know how much we train and how competitive we are. I saw it as a nice reward for all the hard work."

Watching Vander Vies open a bottle of water with his mouth is an eye-opening experience. You can only imagine what it's like to see the Paralympian, who was born without most of his arms and legs because of congenital amputation, competing in high-stakes pressure on the boccia court.

"I've called boccia the badminton of the Paralympics before," the 21-year-old Western political science student said. "Some think it's more of a game than a sport but it takes a lot of practice and skill. We're not well-known here, but overseas we get crowds and it can get pretty loud."

Boccia is very much like the Italian pastime bocce -- which involves trying to roll balls close to a smaller white ball called a pallina. But in the Paralympics version, the white target ball -- "called a jack" -- is bigger and Vander Vies rolls lighter balls with a leather covering.

That's a good thing since he uses the side of his face to balance the ball before making his shot. Some competitors use ramps.

"When I'm really training in the summer, I'll go for four hours a day and throw hundreds of balls," Vander Vies said.

Sales isn't competing because swimming is part of the Ontario winter championships, but he hopes to be in the crowd if he doesn't get called away to another meet. Later this year, he will compete in South Africa, which will mean his decorated swim career has landed him on each of Earth's continents except for Antarctica.

ONTARIO PARALYMPIC SUMMER CHAMPIONSHIPS

When: July 6-9

Where: Western campus and Fanshawe Lake

Sports: boccia, powerlifting, track and field, wheelchair rugby, goalball, wheelchair tennis, adaptive rowing.

Admission and parking: Free.

To volunteer: Online at www.london.ca/2006OPSC


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