A few snowflakes fall shyly on Vieux-Terrebonne on an overcast Wednesday morning in May, betraying any perception of an impending summer. Raphael Tousignant breaks into the Brûlerie de la Rivière café, where she invites Journalism.
“Sorry I got a little carried away,” she launches as she resumes free fall, by John Mayer, plays in the background and snow melts conspicuously on his black jacket and blonde locks. “I think they are setting up terraces or doing construction,” she says.
With her iced coffee in hand, she takes a seat in this almost country-western tavern, chatting about her challenges, her accomplishments, her moments of doubt and joy.
It’s a bit like the final weeks for Para Hockey players. Things are changing and they are full of surprises – much bigger than the return of the Terraces.
Just two weeks ago, Rafael learned that she would be representing Canada at the men’s world championships, which will be held at the end of the month. She would then become the first woman to participate in a major men’s hockey competition wearing a maple leaf jersey.
In an instant, Raphael became the face of women’s hockey and possibly a Canadian hockey player.
“I still don’t realize all that this entails,” she admits. I had the role of spokesperson by the band. Some days I embrace this role, others less so. I feel a little extra pressure, because I tell myself that I represent women’s para hockey as a whole. I say to myself, what message or impact are you sending if I don’t get the championship I want? It’s a pressure I put on myself.
“But I am also happy to have this title. In recent years, I have come to the idea that my role is just to open doors for future generations. I thought to myself that if I did not go to the Paralympic Games, but I would be able to develop this sport on the men’s side to develop it on the side Women’s, maybe future generations won’t have to worry about whether they’ll be able to go to the Paralympics. Because when I started, I thought I could go.”
In fact, it is Raphael’s dream. that one day he would wear the colors of Canada at the Paralympic Games, and this is in his sport. The problem is that there is no female element in hockey. The note nearly 30 years after the sport was incorporated into the Paralympic program: Only three women participated, and it has never been on the side of the two North American powerhouses, Canada and the United States.
The permit could become invalid after the Games in Milan and Cortina, while the striker will certainly be in the plans of the Canadian administration.
Raphall was not predestined to become the next top tier in para hockey.
Young, she is interested in multiple sports such as soccer and dance. However, at the age of eight, her father introduced her to ringgit, a sport she fell in love with.
Two years later, she had an upsetting fall while playing her favorite sport. “I thought it was a bruise,” she recalls. But the longer it went on, the worse it got. It was so hot I could no longer sleep without an ice pack. »
A few months later, the cause of the pain became known and had a name: osteosarcoma. This type of bone cancer has spread to his right hip and into his sciatic nerve.
Two main options appeared. She could have a “soft leg” that would “drag” her for the rest of her life, or have her right leg amputated. After analyzing the pros and cons, her right leg was amputated at the age of ten.
“The only point where my whole life stopped was sports. I cried when I learned I was going to have an amputation. It wasn’t because I wasn’t going to walk anymore, because there are options for that, but really because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to exercise anymore,” you remember.
When my dad found Para Hockey for me, it was no longer a problem.
Since she had to have chemotherapy treatments after the amputation, Rafael had to wait a bit longer before regaining physical activity and especially reconnecting with ice. When, after a year of waiting, I finally get to try hockey, it’s love at first sight.
Raphael Tousignant recalls: “I immediately told my father that I wanted to be in the women’s national team. He told me: “Start holding on to your skates, we’ll see later.” »
Little by little, Raphael is advancing. At just 14 years old, she landed a position on the senior women’s team. At the age of 16, she represented Quebec in the men’s competition at the National Championships.
All this momentum is being held back by the coronavirus. Semi healthy break. In addition to recovering from some injuries, she is taking charge of her nutrition and preparing her physically and mentally to become an athlete at the international level.
Everything was ready to spawn Rafael Tousignant. At twenty years old, it’s dedication.
She is invited to participate in a series of matches against the Americans, knowing that the players are auditioning for a place in the World Championships. However, the striker sees this camp above all as a place where players already on the team come to assert their status.
She knows there is “the camp of her life” and much to her surprise, she is selected for the World Championships.
Never in my holy life did I believe I was in the equation. never. I had never made the team before, so I wasn’t in the evaluation. I went to camp and I was confident I was playing well and the players were talking about it.
What do you mean by “the players were talking about it”?
Well, his teammates had a say in the selections. They all had to mention a player or, in this particular case, a player who particularly stood out during the meetings and deserved their place in the World Cup to be held in Moose Jaw at the end of May. Raphael’s name appeared almost unanimously, and that was the case.
“I was a little shocked,” she admits. To this day, I’m still aware of that, but not completely. It feels like I’ve wanted it so badly for years, and even if it does, it looks like I’m going to believe it when I get there. It wasn’t really planned. I didn’t even cry when I heard the news while the coaches were doing it. »
This is another milestone for Raphael Tousignant, a hockey player. Another achievement of the major. And above all, the start of something big for the future Paralympian. “But for now, I will be Raphael,” she dared to calm down.
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