Making a Racket

Concordia Student Pursues 2020 Paralympics in Badminton

  • Kyle Bower dreams of repping Canada at the 2020 Paralympics and will be playing for Nova Scotia in the Badminton National Championships in May. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

  • Kyle Bower dreams of repping Canada at the 2020 Paralympics and will be playing for Nova Scotia in the Badminton National Championships in May. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

Catching his breath, he wipes the thick beads of sweat off his brow. The other players make their way off the court and into the changing room. He takes a moment to limp to the sidelines—today was tough. He rolls down his sock and gently rubs his ankle, acknowledging it for the first time—the pain is excruciating.

When you observe first-year Concordia student Kyle Bower seamlessly run around the badminton court with commendable determination, it’s hard to believe he was born with a severely twisted right foot.

Named after the shape the deformity takes, clubfoot is a condition in which a person’s foot is rotated internally at the ankle. It affects one of 1,000 babies born in the United States, and 150,000 to 200,000 worldwide each year. It is two times more likely to affect boys before birth than girls, according to HealthResearchFunding.org.

Despite this, Bower has learned to adapt and is pursuing the opportunity to represent Canada at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Bower suffered a case of clubfoot that was quite severe. At an early age, doctors were quick to determine it would be hard for him to ever walk properly, let alone do anything athletic. Throughout his childhood, he underwent five surgeries, which sometimes included breaking his bones in order to reset them. The growth plates in his left leg were also stunted in an effort to adjust to the slower growth of his right, which is still slightly shorter.

“I can pendulate my right leg,” he said. “It’s quite the party trick.” Bower refused to submit to the so-called constraints of the condition.

“My parents weren’t going to take no for an answer,” he said, “and neither was I.”

Early signs of success in the corrected growth of Bower’s foot gave his parents incentive to involve him in sports.

“They were very adamant on not letting me quit,” he said. This led to his adoption of hockey at age four. A passion for basketball in the family has also had him running up and down courts for ten years. “I had to learn to do what everybody else around me was doing and just adapt it to my ability.”

It wasn’t long before Bower realized he was adapting very successfully.

“In school I was making tryouts and beating kids that didn’t have what I had,” he said. “I was still able to perform well and people didn’t even realize I had an issue.”

He realized he had great potential to take his athleticism to a competitive level. Having developed a passion for badminton in the seventh grade, Bower joined the Sackville Badminton Club in Nova Scotia to play junior league.

He has since played for Nova Scotia’s junior development team, and this year, he will be representing his province at the badminton nationals—a rare feat for para-qualifying athletes.

“Probably my biggest achievement yet was placing third in doubles in last year’s Atlantics [tournament]” he said. “My teammate had moved up a division. I normally play U-19, but this was U-23, in a tough division.”

Sam Cutler, one of Bower’s teammates from Sackville, doesn’t notice much of a difference between him and the other players, despite his condition.

“I know it affects him personally, but he plays very well and I don’t notice any disability because of it. He copes with it very well,” Cutler said.

In 2015, Bower was contacted by the executive director of Badminton Canada, Joe Morissette, regarding an opportunity to go as far as representing Canada, this time as a para-athlete.

“I remember reading the email and just thinking: ‘oh my god this is actually happening.’” He has since been in touch with chair of the Para-Badminton Committee, Cindy Bruce.

Balancing his studies with his athletic dreams has proven difficult. Bower studies International Business at Concordia, which he is focused on prioritizing. Nevertheless, he continues to train hard, with high hopes of representing his nation in the biggest para-sports event in the world.

Bower sees some irony in his situation, having learned to embrace his disability to use it to his own advantage.

“I know what this can do for me,” he said, pointing to his foot. “Though it hurts and makes things difficult, it opens doors for me,” Bower said.

“It hurts a lot,” he added, “but it’s not the end of the world. There are people out there who have lost limbs and still are doing sports.”

His condition is not something he carries in shame.

“It’s not something I want to hide,” he said. “I wear shorts, I wear flip flops. I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t have to deal with it. It’s part of me.”

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