Sledge Hockey: At the Age of 56, Joe Tavares is Preparing for the Ontario ParaSport Winter Games

January 7, 2010

Way back in 1969, a hardworking nurse gave Joe Tavares an idea at a rehab centre for disabled children in Toronto.

Little did he know it would be a life-altering moment.

"Me and a bunch of other guys were running around the hall, pretty much wreaking havoc," said Tavares, 56, a double amputee after losing the use of both of his legs in a horrible accident when he was nine, six years earlier.

"One of the nurses then suggested to relieve energy I try basketball."

Just like that, Tavares got his start in organized sports competition. Forty years later, he's getting ready to take part in the Ontario ParaSport Games as a sledge hockey player in Kingston, Jan. 22-24.

Tavares, who was trying to "hop a ride" on a train and "didn't quite make it" when he lost his legs during that accident in Foleyet (northwest of Timmins), sure is glad that nurse gave him his introduction to athletic competition.

Shortly after that suggestion, he competed in a similar multi-sport event for athletes with a disability in Hamilton. Tavares, who walks on prosthetic legs, excelled in basketball and track and field, earning him an award from the provincial government.

After moving to Lyndhurst 25 years ago, Tavares joined the now-defunct Kingston Lasers basketball team. When that squad folded, a hockey team started up in the early 1990s -- the Kingston Knights.

Tavares remains a key forward on that team, which will have four of its players represented on the East Region team at the Ontario competition at the Invista Centre.

Tavares said his top athletic accomplishment is "still being able to play at this level" at the age of 56.

"Some players scoot around the ice pretty quick," said Tavares, whose wife and two grown children will be on hand to cheer him on at home. "I'm happy I'm still able to keep up with most of them. As far as I know, I'll be the oldest guy in the tournament."

Tavares will be joined on the East team by fellow Knights players Dave Baldwin, Craig Elliot and Justin Gibson.

At the most recent Ontario ParaSport Games in Collingwood, Tavares' East squad finished third, a major disappointment for him.

"Bronze to me," he said, "didn't mean anything."

But Tavares said the social aspect of the event makes it special.

About 300 athletes are expected to come to Kingston to compete in ParaAlpine skiing, ParaNordic skiing, sledge hockey, wheelchair curling, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and swimming.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's really a learning experience."

Tavares, who sells parts for Leeds Transit in Elgin, hopes the Games open the eyes of younger athletes interested in trying his sport.

Tavares also figures first-time watchers will be entertained.

"It can get very physical," he said. "If anybody watched us scrimmage (with the Knights), they'd be saying 'these guys are nuts.'"

Article ID# 2250274

Reproduced from

More all disability articles.