With final preparations underway for the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Games, CSIO presents a new article series highlighting how we deliver best-in-class sport science, sport medicine, and pathway support for Olympic and Paralympic partners. The focus of the series is on how #WECAN – CSIO and its sport partners – work together to help Olympic and Paralympic athletes, coaches, and support staff overcome adversity, adapt, and achieve their podium potential. Over the past couple of years, CSIO staff have been resilient and found innovative ways to provide best-in-class programs and services safely – Elevating People and Performance in Pursuit of #BuildingChampions. Because #WECAN.
By David Grossman
Good luck trying to get Greg Westlake to say “no” to anything.
There might be the odd item, but Westlake is adamant and really a “yes” man.
Always exhibiting a contagious smile, Westlake is a particular individual who, regardless of the situation, has made up his mind to enjoy life to its fullest. You can hear his gung-ho decisive and confident attitude when he talks about – almost everything.
Gracious and congenial, adventurous, sticks to commitments and has even cycled in the Nevada desert, one day he expects to do the same – but this time in the Sahara Desert.
Westlake is also one who doesn’t go out of his way to brag about accomplishments or exhibit a need to display his numerous medals earned as a Canadian athlete playing the crème of the crop of international competition.
Simply put, Westlake is a winner by every definition of the word. A leader, an educator, a businessman, a role model for athletes with disabilities, and the list just keeps growing.
Westlake will be part of Canada’s squad that opens the Paralympic Games hockey competition on March 5 with a game against the defending champion United States at the Beijing National Indoor Stadium.
With eight countries competing, Canada, silver medallists at the 2018 Paralympic Games, is in Group A with the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Korea and the USA hoping to be in the gold medal game on March 13. Group B consists of the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia, and China.
Born with a congenital defect, Westlake didn’t have a fibula in one leg and the other was missing a tibia. At just 18 months old, his legs were amputated below the knee. As a six-year-old, Westlake was on television. He had appeared in a commercial for War Amps, and is still close to the organization that provides services to Canadian amputees.
Hockey was always a fascination of his. Westlake, as a teen, fit the description of your basic Canadian kid who watched hockey, enjoyed the action, and dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League. But that was something not feasible for him – and he knew it.
Photo courtesy of Greg Westlake.
“It was hard to see (playing hockey in the NHL) happening for a guy with two artificial legs,” recalled Westlake, who made his debut in sledge ice hockey with the Mississauga Cruisers at the age of 16. “I never wanted to play disabled sports. I wanted a normal life and to play sports with able bodied players.”
Back then, Westlake was simply not able to benefit from a booming sport community for athletes with a disability. In fact, he claims, it had been years since he met an athlete with a disability.
“I made the decision to be optimistic, say yes to everything, try do everything, and also help others do the same,” said Westlake, who graduated from Thomas A. Blakelock High School in Oakville, and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Waterloo.
That positive aggressive attitude, coupled with a great personality, was refreshing for him. So, too, were many others around him who were refreshed with new challenges and opportunities.
“Growing up, maturing and learning, I saw how disabled athletes were getting on with life and I admired what I saw,” he recalled. “My parents (Jim and Deb) came to me and raised the idea of playing sledge hockey. At first, I wasn’t so sure. Meeting people with other disabilities, and going forward, it became a life changing moment.
“When I saw (sledge hockey), I didn’t like it – but it was also fuel for my dream. My goal was the NHL, but when reality set in, I knew it would not be possible. I had wanted to be a hockey player and I could see that sledge (ice) hockey was something I could do – and also be on a level surface like everyone else.”
Working himself into excellent physical shape, young and passionate, Westlake saw the sport as a pathway to happiness. After making the Canadian National Team in 2003, a year later Westlake had his first taste of global competition as Canada placed fourth at the World Championship in Sweden.
A career filled with highlights, Westlake was chosen a team captain, earned offensive star status and was selected Most Valuable Player. There’s more. He now has six medals from World Championships and three from the Paralympic Games. That includes a gold medal after Canada defeated Norway 3-0 in Italy at the 2006 Paralympics. He would add a bronze at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi and a silver while in Pyeongchang in 2018 to his prize collection.
A thirst for success hasn’t left the native of North Vancouver, B.C., who moved to Ottawa and then on to Toronto around his 13th birthday.
Now looking forward to the 2022 showcase in China, and his fifth Paralympic Games, Westlake has had conversations with his wife Catherine, about the end of his playing days on the world stage. His objective, of being the best he can be, hasn’t changed.
“I’m making the most of every day, staying focussed and happy,” said Westlake, the youngest of four siblings, Scott, Rachelle and Nicole. “While I also like what it takes to win for Canada, I remember the best advice that I ever received, was not to worry about things that I can’t control.”
When he’s not playing hockey, Westlake likes to work with families of athletes with a disability and people adjusting to a new life.
With the ability to learn quickly and exchange ideas, Westlake is very affectionate, dependable, and open minded. He’s spent a great deal of time at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, chatting with nearly anyone, and offering up support, encouragement, and confidence.
Left: Greg Westlake speaking at a Canadian Tire Jumpstart event. Right: Greg Westlake with Maddux Kerr at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Photos courtesy of Greg Westlake.
There has always been quite a bit more to Westlake than being a hockey player.
“We had an opening on the Board and his name was the first to come to mind,” said Debbie Low, President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO).
“A great athlete, a consummate pro, a businessman, broadcaster and mentor for young kids with disabilities. (Westlake) exemplifies everything in a leader and has left a very positive mark. He’s young, has done so much and set himself up for years of success. It’s just the kind of person we want on our team.”
For Westlake, expressive and often quick-witted, it means a new chapter in his life.
“I want to keep learning and be in a room with successful people,” he said. “I’ll always make time to talk about all the great things that we (CSIO) have achieved and find creative ways to keep building success in sport for all athletes.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
Cover photo courtesy of Greg Westlake.
Elevating People and Performances for Beijing 2022: The Series
Laura Albright, Senior Advisor, Communications & Marketing
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Email: [email protected]
About Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is a non-profit organization committed to the pursuit of excellence by providing best-in-class programs, services, and leadership to high performance athletes, coaches, and National and Provincial Sport Organizations to enhance their ability to achieve international podium performances. Our team of expert staff deliver sport science, sport medicine, life services, and coaching and technical leadership support to help Canada win medals and strengthen the sport system in Ontario and Canada. CSIO is part of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, working in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, and the Coaching Association of Canada. CSIO is further supported by funding partners such as the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries and Sport Canada.