Robert "Bo" Hedges is prepping to lead the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team back to the top of the podium at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.
The graduate of the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George joined the two-time Paralympic gold-medal winning national team in 2007 only to suffer a crushing defeat in the gold-medal game against Australia at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing . The loss, combined with a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2010 world championship, had Hedges reconsidering his training regime and future goals.
"After that I had to evaluate myself as a player and see how I could help the team more and help myself improve," said the product of Wonowon, near Fort St. John. "At that point I had been named captain, so I worked on just becoming a better leader and taking more responsibility for myself and the team."
Hedges shared his self-evaluation process with Prince George athletes at the PacificSport Fan the Flame dinner last Friday.
Since 2006, when Hedges moved from Prince George to Vancouver, he trained with the Canadian national program out of Douglas College, but by 2010 the program had changed.
"Some of the guys had gotten older, had families and moved away from basketball and some of the guys had gone overseas to play so the competition level wasn't as high as it had been when I originally moved there," said Hedges. "I figured I needed a change."
After toying with the idea of heading to Europe to play for a while, Hedges said the opportunity to further his education while playing basketball came up and this past January he headed for the University of Alabama to work towards a masters degree in sports management while playing for the Crimson Tide wheelchair hoops squad.
"It seemed like a good opportunity for me to play everyday against young guys who are hungry and really want to push and, as well, getting the master's degree for after my basketball career would be beneficial and help with that transition and present a few more options for work."
Hedges received an undergraduate degree in business marketing from UNBC.
It wasn't the first time Hedges has had to make changes to the direction his life was headed in. When he was 13, Hedges' life was altered forever during a summer holiday at his grandparents farm in southern Ontario.
"I fell out of a tree," said Hedges. "I fell about 15 to 20 feet and landed on a stump. I was a paraplegic after that."
Hedges is classified as a 2.5 disability in wheelchair basketball, according to the international classification system, which means he demonstrates abilities of both a two and three class athlete. The classification system ranges from 0.5 to 4.5 where the lower the number the less functional skills a person has.
The 32-year-old credits his family and support network with helping him adjust to a new life.
"Being that age I went through high school and met most of my friends being in a chair and could plan my life out in terms of thinking about jobs and what I was going to do that way," he said.
Hedges said he become passionate about wheelchair basketball after a demo team visited Fort St. John soon after he returned home from the rehabilitation centre in Vancouver.
"I went to a little junior camp with them and started liking it," said Hedges. "I got some extra wheelchairs into Fort St. John through B.C. Wheelchair Sports and Pat Harris. We started a program and my brothers, sisters and friends would all come out along with a few locals guys from Fort St. John. It was a good start for me when I was 15."
Hedges also started to commute to Prince George to play with the Titans club team with Harris.
"When I graduated high school that was a big draw for me to come here and play with them and play against players that are a lot better than myself," said Hedges. "They just taught me a lot about the game and the fundamentals of basketball and just laid a good foundation for me to move forward."
The experiences Hedges had with Harris and others through playing with the Titans and the B.C. Paraplegic Association are what push him to get involved with young adults today as a mentor.
"I enjoyed it as an athlete growing up and I saw the benefit of it, getting feedback and interaction with older players," said Hedges. "I like being able to do that for myself and put a smile on the kids faces and helping out when I can and as much as possible, talking to them about basketball or about anything is great. Pat Harris did a great job as far as mentoring me as a kid and helping me out in the transition."
As one of the captains of the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team, Hedges said he looks forward to the added responsibility in London.
"I have a better idea of what I want to do and need to do and of the pressures that are out there leading into the games," said the point guard. "The first time I was just more happy to be there and trying to help the team. This time I'm focusing on my own game and knowing I can play a larger role and be more of a leader as one of the captains on the team to help us achieve our goal of gold."
Hedges is among seven returning players from 2008.
But before he heads to London, Hedges will try to help Team B.C. win its sixth consecutive Canadian title this weekend at the Richmond Oval. After the national championship, Hedges and his Paralympic teammates will have a training camp in Vancouver next week.
Besides defending Paralympic champion Australia, the other team's likely to give the Canadian men a battle in London are the United States and Great Britain.
No matter what happens this summer, Hedges said he is looking towards a third Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
"With the Pan Am Games being in Toronto in 2015, my mom has a lot of family and so does my dad living back there in Ontario and I'm sure family from out west will come - you don't get very many opportunities to play in front of family on your home soil," said Hedges. "So, I think, that would be a pretty neat experience."