Possessing a background as a paraswimmer, Eri Yamamoto MacDonald never thought that the day would come when her athletic career would extend to the rink. Born in Japan, she would eventually cross the Pacific and make Edmonton her second home. After coming to terms with an injury that shelved her para-swimming ambitions, she discovered that her love of athletic competition could not be extinguished.
Although her athletic background made Yamamoto MacDonald more than active enough to mount the sled and take to the ice, there was still an adjustment period. The support of the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Northern Alberta (SBHANA) in joining an ice sledge hockey program also contributed to her confidence.
“I have been a para-swimmer for 13 years and dedicated a lot of my time towards practice when I was in high school. After my career was ended by injury, I had lost interest in competing at swimming. I did not think I would play another para-sport in my life.
I was an active child with disabilities, but only in swimming. So, I was put into a learning curve when I started playing ice sledge hockey. Also, it took a long time to adjust to being a team player compared to an individual sport. However, I have found good support in the sledge hockey community. I enjoy having teammates that always support me.”
With her return to sport creating an environment of encouragement, it did not take long for Yamamoto MacDonald to embrace it with enthusiasm. Recruited by Tara Chisholm (who would eventually become head coach of the national team) to join the ranks of ice sledge hockey, she would prove to be a positive influence in Yamamoto MacDonald’s athletic career.
“My relationship with Tara is always changing depends on settings, which is funny. Tara and I were colleagues in grad school. We started in the same year with the same supervisor. As you can imagine, she was so passionate, she would invite me into the sledge hockey program.
Yet, when I was on the ice for the first time, she was not the coach, but was one of my teammates. Then, we spent more time together, both at school and on the ice. I decided to join her competitive intermediate team and that began the phase when she became my coach.”
As Yamamoto MacDonald’s athletic experience underwent resurgence through ice sledge hockey, her talents eventually rose to the surface. Suddenly, Yamamoto MacDonald found her stride, displaying the potential to be considered for the national team. Once again, Chisholm would be the catalyst,
“Then Tara asked me if I wanted to go to Ontario to see other women’s ice sledge hockey players. That was the first time that I had met other players from across Canada. Two years later, she would become the national women’s team coach and I became one of her players.
I have enjoyed showing Tara and Derek (Whitson) how I am improving as an ice sledge hockey player, compared to when I started playing three years ago. I also feel very lucky to have the most reliable person and best friend on the bench. Tara led me back to being an elite athlete again. Tara and Derek are helping me develop as an athlete, even though I am over 30 years old. I will keep showing them what I got.”
With her native Japan hosting the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games, there is a feeling of national pride for Yamamoto MacDonald. Two years before Tokyo shall host the Games, another region of Asia will serve as host for a world-class sporting event. Pyeongchang, South Korea will host the next Winter Paralympic Games in 2018.
In the ice sledge hockey community, the 2018 Games shall signify a watershed moment. With the sport among the calendar of demonstration sports to be contested in Pyeongchang, it is a statement that the sport is here to stay. For Yamamoto MacDonald, she will be looking to help build the Asian ice sledge hockey team. After having such an influential mentor in Chisholm, she is hoping to emulate her and create a similar legacy for the women that shall comprise the roster for the Asian team in 2018,
“It is the IPC’s five-year plan to have national teams for Canada, USA, Europe and Asia in ice sledge hockey by 2018. Currently, I am working towards accomplishing this mission.
I am very excited to be working with the Korean team, aiming towards success of the Asian Women’s team. By Tara introducing me to ice sledge hockey, this sport made my life totally different. Now, it will be my turn to change someone’s life for the better.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”