Celebrating Black Excellence in Sports
Blaise Mutware - Wheelchair Basketball
by Aaron Sanders
Throughout this Black Excellence in Sport series, we’ve highlighted a few of Canada’s finest and influental Olympic athletes. Their stories showed that there were moments in their lives when humble beginnings, adversity and vindication played a major role in their accomplishments. One wheelchair basketball athlete is poised for the future and that’s 26-year-old Blaise Mutware. The first thing he wants you to know about his that he loves the game, and he shows it every time he’s on the court.
“I’m a pretty passionate athlete,” said Mutware. “I have a huge admiration for the game. I’m very enthusiastic, so I try to spread that as much as I can to my teammates.”
Blaise was born in Rwanda. After living in Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe for the first 13 years of his life, Blaise and his family moved to Toronto. He had two passions growing up - stand up basketball and cooking. He enrolled in a culinary school and, by the way, his favourite dish to make is lasagna. Mutware saw one similarity in basketball and cooking.
“When you work at a restaurant, it’s very team-like (like basketball), Mutware said. “Communication is key because you want to make sure that the team is on the same page.”
Blaise throwing a basketball. Photo: Wheelchair Basketball Canada
However, tragedy struck when he was 20-years-old. While furthering his studies in culinary school, he was confronted by two robbers and they shot Mutware in the leg. Most of the damage affected his spine and doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to walk again.
After the injury, Blaise started taking up wheelchair basketball and has been part of the sport ever since.
“My therapist was able to contact one of the local wheelchair basketball coaches and said ‘There’s a potential athlete who’s interested in playing.,’ said Mutware. “I checked it out, pretty much learned the sport first-hand and had a lot of fun doing so even though I didn’t know much about it. The idea was the same as regular basketball and it was a new aspect of the sport that I loved as much.”
All that training helped him participate in club leagues. Through the years, Mutware played for the Varsity Village Rebels and Toronto Rollin’ Raptors. It was an experience that helped him tighten up his skills for the next step.
“Those were the clubs I was able to make mistakes, learn from them and have room to grow,” Mutware said. “Those club teams were able to take care of that aspect.”
After playing for the Rebels and Raptors, he was invited to train in the National Academy Program at Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s National Training Centre. After that, Blaise’s training paid off. His chance to represent Canada came true when he got named to the senior men’s national team in 2019.
Blaise in Lima 2019 Games. Photo: Wheelchair Basketball Canada
“It was definitely a goal and a sight for a really long time,” said Mutware. “It felt really good to accomplish that. But, I felt like there were more things to improve and really be able to impact the team to help them win a medal.”
The timing couldn’t have been anymore appropriate. That team went on to win the silver medal in that year’s ParaPan American Games. The second-place finish helped Team Canada punch their ticket to Tokyo to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games - which will be Blaise’s first.
“Lima was a sight to remember [because] it was my first international event of that magnitude,” Mutware said. “To get the silver medal was an accomplishment we were happy about. It really made the sport bigger than what it was for me. I could really see the impact that we were able to make and we still have a large job to complete in Tokyo.”
Mutware says he has come a long way to get the opportunity to represent Canada and holds that very close to him.
“[It’s great because of] just how great the country is,” said Mutware. “With me originally being an immigrant, it’s very humbling to know how great the nation is. This is not an opportunity that comes often. I really want to capitalize [on it] and make the country proud.”
The 26-year-old also believes that diversity unites all athletes.
Blaise exercising at CSIO. Photo: Jason Burnett
“It doesn’t exclude anybody from participating in sports or from gaining knowledge of it,” Mutware said. “It really brings people of all backgrounds and abilities together.”
He may be a Paralympic athlete, but Blaise and the rest of the Senior Men’s National team want to make a statement while competing worldwide. Blaise hopes that everyone who plays the game gets equally recognized for their competitive level.
“[It’s important] that para athletes be able to have the same recognition and attention like regular athletes,” said Mutware. “That way future generations can look at that and be able to play Para sports just as much as they want to play basketball, hockey, etc.”
The sport much more than just putting a ball in the hoop. Blaise explains what it takes to play and train for wheelchair basketball.
“The game requires a lot of strength, mentally and physically,” said Mutware. “For the physical part, it can take a toll on your body. A few hours in the chair can really train different muscle groups that you didn’t know you even have. We lift a lot, lift our shoulders and arms that would get affected when we play.”
Mutware has had respect for basketball since the beginning. His respect for wheelchair basketball keeps growing and growing. Another thing that has grown in this journey was Mutware himself.
Blaise at Lima2019 Games. Photo: Wheelchair Basketball Canada
“In the beginning, I had little to no knowledge of the game,” Mutware said. “It was much more complicated than putting the ball through the hoop. There was a whole lot of technical stuff with the chair and to perform better. There’s things that repeat themselves in the game. The more patterns [you go through], the more experienced you become. Now that I have a few years under my belt, it’s definitely made a difference. I’m even more excited to see much more of my game can grow.”
As he looks forward to the future and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, Blaise hopes he can be remembered for one thing.
“As the guy who always has fun, but was able to team first,” said Mutware. “To really make the game enjoyable overall from participants to viewers.”
Aaron Sanders is a journalist and broadcaster for the Windsor Express Basketball team in the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada and for St. Clair College Saints athletics. He is also Content Creator for NBL of Canada. Aaron is also the public address announcer for University Athletics including, University of Windsor Lancers athletics, and Essex Ravens football.