A sea of noisemakers and “Here to Cheer” pennants transformed the track at Scarborough’s Variety Village into a burning ring of fire, energy and spirit during the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am torch relay Friday, Aug.7.
Eight torchbearers walked or wheeled the flame around the recreation centre dedicated to helping people with disabilities achieve their life goals through sports, wellness and education.
The Scarborough stop kicked off the fifth and final day of torch relay and brought the flame closer to its journey’s end at the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games Opening Ceremony taking place this evening at York University.
Variety Village’s CEO John Willson said the Games are very close to the hearts of everyone working at the facility, and hopes the 160 summer camp students will be inspired by the athletes and high quality competitions.
“Parapan Am athletes train just as hard, and are just as talented as Olympic athletes,” he said. “This will be a chance for Toronto to see that in a real and obvious way.”
A chant of “Pa-chi! Pa-chi!” coaxed the official Games mascot out of hiding and onto the stage. The colourful porcupine started the celebration off by leading the crowd in a rousing rendition of his dance “the wiggle.”
After stomping and shaking, spectators gathered to applaud the first torchbearer of the day, wheelchair tennis champion David Wagner.
Wagner hails from California and is ranked number one in Quad singles and Quad doubles in the world, based on the International Tennis Federation rankings.
After becoming paralyzed from the mid-chest down in a surf accident in 2005, doctors told Wagner he would never play tennis again. During rehab, he regained his strength and love for the sport and went on to win three gold, two silver, and one bronze Paralympic Games medals.
The 41-year old will be competing in the Rio 2016 Paralympics next summer.
Wagner was in Scarborough to coach wheelchair tennis camps at Variety Village through the Sports United Wheelchair Tennis Envoy program run by the U.S. Department of State.
“The torch flame represents the unity of sport and touches the lives of all people, not just those involved in athletics,” he said.
Sgt. James MacIntyre had his left leg amputated after enduring a serious injury while serving with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment on deployment in Afghanistan in 2010.
MacIntyre is now a spokesperson for Soldier On, a Canadian Armed Forces program that supports service personnel and veterans to overcome their physical or mental illness or injury through physical activity and sport.
He took the torch from Wagner to begin his journey around the track.
“As am amputee, this event is really close to my heart. The flame represents the drive and determination of athletes who have overcome obstacles,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work to compete at such a level.”
Scarborough Southwest MPP Lorenzo Berardinetti took to the stage to thank the torchbearers and sponsors in attendance.
“The torch is a symbol of energy, hope, pushing boundaries and never giving up,” he said. “When you carry the torch and feel the flame, you’re passing on ideals of community, participation and pride.”
Variety Village’s director of access and awareness Archie Allison proudly carried the torch on its last lap. The crowd burst into cheer as Allison lit the Parapan Am community cauldron.
He has worked with the facility for 32 years and said it was amazing to see friends and family come “home” to witness the relay.
“It was truly a great experience. I was very excited,” he said.
Canada will welcome athletes from across the Americas to the Parapan Am Games with the cultural spectacle of the Opening Ceremony at the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Athletics Stadium at York University Friday night.
The ceremony will be the final destination of the torch relay. East will meet west as two torches travelling from opposite ends of the province unite for the iconic lighting of the Games cauldron.
The epic flame will fuel the fire and spirit of the city as Toronto hosts the largest Parapan Am Games in history.