Despite growing up with a disability, Claire Buchanan never let it hold her back. Whether it was hardcourt heroics in wheelchair basketball, or the chance to mount the sled at the rink, Buchanan’s spirit represented more than the true essence of sport, but the meaning of hard work.
Born with spina fida, one of the key figures in her initial involvement with athletics can be attributed to her mother. Wanting her daughter to remain active, she was crucial in setting her on the path towards fitness and increased confidence. It would be the start of a lifelong love affair with sport, one that has resulted in Buchanan currently studying to become a personal trainer.
“I first was introduced to sledge hockey in Mississauga, Ontario. My mom was eager for me to be an active kid and her friends told her about Cruisers Disabled Sports club. She took me out to the hockey rink and we watched an entire practice. I was extremely nervous and was not sure about wanting to be involved. Yet, my mother insisted that I try it once and if I did not like it, then at least I can say I tried it out.
That next Saturday, I got up the courage to strap in and try out sledge hockey. I have to admit, I’m pretty sure all I did was go around circles and end up on my side for the most part but from the second I was on the ice and feeling the cool gliding breeze through my helmet, I had fallen in love with sledge hockey.”
A great milestone in Buchanan’s ice sledge hockey career was the opportunity to proudly don the iconic Maple Leaf on her jersey. For multiple generations of able-bodied girls who grew up aspiring to one day play for Canada, a new generation of disabled athletes is able to dream those same dreams.
The beauty of ice sledge hockey is that it allows such access for disabled athletes, creating a new chapter in sporting equality while forging new heroes like Buchanan for the young to emulate. Heading into the 2014-15 season, Buchanan saw her own dreams come true, as she was one of four new faces on the Canadian roster, joining Alyssa Godin, Alanna Mah and Danica McPhee.
Such exhilaration represented a proud milestone in her career as she had the opportunity to make history. Among Canada’s blueline corps, she participated in the inaugural IPC Ice Sledge Hockey International Women’s Cup in her hometown of Brampton, Ontario. In Game 2 (against Europe), Buchanan earned an assist on Canada’s sixth goal of the game, scored by Geneva Coulter. In the semi-finals, Buchanan and Mah would earn an assist on Ashley Goure’s second goal of the game, putting the game out of reach for their opponents, advancing to the gold medal game.
“Being an athlete since I was 12, wearing Canada on your chest is the ultimate feeling. I’m pretty sure the only better feeling would be winning gold with the crest on your chest. Being a part of history in the women’s sledge hockey game, it was and still is every day. It is a dream come true.”
Considering Canada and the United States also engage in an annual three-game friendly, Buchanan was a participant for the first time in 2015. The friendly held even more impact this year as it was hosted in Buffalo, the site of the IPC Men’s Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships. As the friendly ran simultaneous to the event, it not only served to help increase awareness of the sport, but the feelings of national pride and patriotism took on an even stronger meaning.
“You grow up watching Canada hockey every season and every tournament. You become obsessed with the game of hockey in the country you love. The day my coach called me telling me that I had become a part of the national team; it was an overflow of emotion.
I held back tears and had to contain from screaming out loud. I love representing my country in sport and my 13 year dream has finally come true and I could not be more dedicated to become better every time I hit the ice.”
Before Buchanan experienced the dream of representing Canada at the ice sledge hockey level, she had already experienced athletic glory as an elite competitor in wheelchair basketball. Such was her prodigy on the hardcourt that she even earned the opportunity to compete at the NCAA level. Introduced to the sport by her ice sledge hockey teammates, it would lead to a new chapter in her athletic career.
“I had started playing ball around 14 and it has been an amazing ride. Every day is a challenge to get better and that in itself is what I love about being an athlete. Every single day is a chance to get better, stronger, and smarter. I played wheelchair basketball in college for the University of Alabama.”
Among her teammates at the University of Alabama, she played with four members who won gold for the United States at the 2007 Parapan American Games; Mary Allison Milford, Desiree Miller, Alana Nichols and Stephanie Wheeler. Of note, Buchanan would experience her own hardcourt glories. During the 2008-09 season, Buchanan contributed to an Alabama squad that went 30-2 and captured the national championship by defeating the University of Illinois. Buchanan would graduate from Alabama with a pair of national titles.
Before 2014 would expire, Buchanan would earn an invitation to the Wheelchair Basketball National Acadmemy. She was among 22 athletes invited to attend a selection camp which would determine the roster for Canada’s 2015 Senior Women’s Team. Of note, she would earn a fourth place finish at the Osaka Cup with Team Canada. In addition, Buchanan’s club team is the Burlington Vipers, who appeared at the CWBL National Championships.
Both wheelchair basketball and ice sledge hockey go hand-in-hand for Buchanan, experiencing world-class success in both sports. Buchanan acknowledges that numerous aspects of wheelchair basketball have provided a positive influence, adding to her distinguished career,
“Being able to play the sport close to seven days a week was an opportunity I will never forget. Playing wheelchair basketball at that level gives me the sense of commitment. It made me see how much time and effort you have to put into your sport in order to be the best. I love being an athlete and I would trade a social life and a "normal life" to have what I have right now for as long as I can have it. Sport is my life. Hockey is first love of sports and to be wearing Canada on my jersey is a blessing that I will never take for granted.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
In action with Team Canada – Photo credit: Christopher Di Virgilio
Team Canada profile picture obtained from: http://www.canadianwomensledgehockey.com/player-bios.html
Wheelchair Basketball image obtained from: http://alabamaadapted.com/2014/2014/womens-basketball/womens-basketball-08-09/