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By: Andrew Millichamp
Greg Westlake, captain of Canada’s Paralympic sledge hockey team, has unfinished business on the ice.
A former gold medal winner in Turin, Italy in 2006, Westlake was an important part of Team Canada at the Winter Olympics in 2010. Westlake is part of the Humber News series profiling Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls in their quest for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. The Vancouver Games ended in a disaster, as Canada lost to Japan 3-1 in the semi-finals, costing them their chance at a gold medal on home soil.
“We hadn’t lost to them for a long, long time,” Westlake told Humber News. “There’s no way they have the capability to beat us on a good day.”
The Canadian team was unable to rebound from the heartbreaking loss, falling 2-1 to Norway in the bronze medal game – after they had previously beaten Norway 5-0 in the group stage.
“You’re so dejected, you’re so heartbroken and then you’ve got to play 24 hours later in that bronze medal game,” said Westlake. “It almost doesn’t feel fair. It almost feels like a sick joke.”
Despite the heartbreak, Westlake remembers Vancouver fondly.
“Vancouver was an absolutely amazing experience for 80 per cent of the Games, up until the end result,” he said. “I loved walking out in the opening ceremonies and hearing the ovation.”
It was a departure for Westlake, who said he sometimes feels underappreciated as an amateur athlete in Canada.
“You really feel like as a sledge hockey player that you fly under the radar for a lot of your playing career – like you’re doing it for no one but yourself and your teammates and your family,” he said. “You just feel underappreciated, undervalued as an amateur athlete in Canada sometimes.”
But this was not the case at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
“For those two weeks in Vancouver it was pretty special, you feel like what Sidney Crosby would have felt like, what NHL guys would have felt like walking into an NHL barn every day,” he said. “It was just two weeks of my life where I put everything else on hold and lived life like a professional athlete.”
With his eyes on a second gold medal at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, Westlake fondly remembers the mix of emotions he experienced when he won gold in Italy.
“It’s such a whirlwind of emotions, because on one hand the selfish part of you just thinks it’s amazing and you want to soak it all in and enjoy it,” he said. “You feel like you’re on top of the world for quite a while afterwards.”
“Then there’s this whole other part of you that just wants to share it with everybody that’s ever helped get you there, ever helped you do anything in your life,” he said. “Your parents, your family, even some good friends back home. It’s as much their moment as it is yours.”
Westlake had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 18 months old due to a birth defect. He has worn prosthetics his entire life.
“I did martial arts my whole life,” he said. “I did jiu jitsu and kick boxing my whole childhood as well as playing stand up hockey with all my friends.”
Westlake’s time on team Canada has made him wish he got into sledge hockey at a younger age.
“I’ve had such an incredible journey, such an incredible time on team Canada. I didn’t start playing sledge hockey until I was 15, 16 years old, just because I was playing standup hockey,” he said. “Now that I’ve seen all the great things that sledge hockey has brought to my life, I wish I could go back and start playing when I was eight or nine years old and be better than I am now.”
Westlake is an RBC Olympian, a part of a program instituted by the Royal Bank of Canada. The program allows athletes to work part time and still give them time to train. Westlake is also a motivational speaker and does promotional work for Hockey Canada
Westlake said he’s left plenty of time to train, as he is focused on a single goal: a second gold medal.
“I haven’t thought for a second beyond Russia. I’m so into Russia, I’m still mad about Vancouver,” he said. “I need to go and win a gold medal in Russia and feel that satisfaction.”
LISTEN: Canadian Paralympic gold medalist Greg Westlake talks to Humber News.
About to talk hockey on the radio. I'll be good looking enough for TV one day.
— Greg Westlake (@gwestlake12) October 20, 2012
I judge my bus rides with the hockey team based on how many movies we can watch during it.
— Greg Westlake (@gwestlake12) October 28, 2012
— Team Canada Para (@HC_Para) October 25, 2012