North Bay wheelchair tennis player heading to Paralympics

It’s been a long journey for Robert Shaw, but come Aug. 28, he will be representing Canada at his first Paralympics in Tokyo.

Born and raised in North Bay, the 31-year-old suffered a spinal injury in a diving accident 10 years ago, leaving him in a wheelchair.

Shaw hasn’t let his injury stop him from playing tennis. He took up wheelchair tennis as a coach before his injury, and now he’s a professional player.

“I had a diving accident in my own family pool that caused me to have a spinal cord injury -- I have a C5, C6 level, which is why I have paralysis in my arms and my hands, as well as in my legs and my core,” said Shaw.

“I compete in the quad divisions, meaning I have impairment to at least three or four limbs.”

Shaw isn’t ranked amongst the top four players heading into the games, but after winning gold at the 2019 Para Pan American Games in Peru, he told CTV News he has what it takes to medal in Tokyo.

“I have beaten the world No. 2, world No. 4, 5 and 6, so there’s no reason why I can’t compete there with the top guys -- there’s no reason why I can’t medal,” he said.

“I’ll have to perform extremely well, as everyone has to do at the Olympics and Paralympics.”

The games were originally supposed to happen last summer, but due to COVID-19, things were put on hold until 2021. Now with less than a month until opening ceremonies, Shaw is excited to get going.

“I’m super excited -- it’s my first Paralympic Games," he said. "I competed in Lima in 2019, so that was my first multi-sport Games, but this is on a whole other level. So, super excited to get over there and put into competition what we do in training.”

“We feel ready, we’re pretty anxious as a team to get there and just try to compete and play well. There’s a lot of logistical headaches that are incorporated into these Paralympics because of COVID,” added Shaw.

Growing up, Shaw coached and played at the local tennis club in North Bay.

CTV News spoke with a friend and former colleague of Shaw’s who said the tennis club and city is rooting for him.

“I think he knows that everyone is rooting for him -- not just at the club, but he has family connections through the whole city,” said Bobby Ray.

“So maybe more than he knows, there are people thinking about him and looking forward to cheering him on.”

If it weren’t for tennis in North Bay, Shaw says he doesn’t know where the game would’ve taken him.

“I never really trained anywhere else," he said. "Never really competed anywhere else other than northern Ontario so, all the skills I have now, the foundation was built through being a player in North Bay, which is kinda cool.”

Shaw is set to leave for Tokyo the third week of August. Once arriving he has a week of training before his first match Aug. 28.