Adam Lancia takes on the world

2013/03/27 - Written by Vanessa Santilli
Adam Lancia
Adam Lancia
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At only 33 years old, Paralympian Adam Lancia has travelled the world. Russia, Japan and Argentina are just a few of the many countries in this wheelchair basketball star's travel log. But he's not done yet. The two-time Paralympic gold medallist has his sights set on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the next Paralympic Games in 2016.

“Getting up on the podium one last time would be nice,” says Lancia. He won gold alongside his teammates on Team Canada at the London 2012 Paralympic Games last summer. His trip to the Paralympics in Athens also resulted in gold, followed by silver in Beijing.

Born without feet, ankles, his ACL and tibia, Lancia calls being born with a disability a blessing. "For everything I've been able to do as a result, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Not even for a second ... And all the people that I've met and friends that I've made — there's no substitute for that."

Born in Scarborough, Lancia has put down roots in Halifax to be closer to his fiancé, Jamey Jewells, a wheelchair basketball player for the Canadian women's national team. With a degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois — famed for their wheelchair basketball team — and a diploma in prosthetics and orthotics from George Brown College in Toronto, Lancia currently works as a prosthetics technician at the Nova Scotia Research Centre.

Growing up, the use of prosthetics played no small part in his life, allowing him to take part in sports such as soccer and fast-pitch baseball, he says.

When Lancia was five years old, his femur (thigh bone) was essentially cut in half and then reset to even out his shin joints. The rehab they prescribed was playing as many sports as he could. “I played on my high school able-bodied basketball team as well,” he says. “I'm no stranger to getting around and doing things on my feet, so to say.” When people ask Lancia about his disability, they're quick to empathize.”But for me, that's how I grew up,” he says. “That's what I know.”

Gaetano Lancia, Adam's father, immigrated to Canada from Sora, Lazio, with his family at the age of 11. “We're very proud of him,” says Gaetano, who can easily list off all the teams and leagues his son has ever played for. “One year he played for Denver, Colorado,” he says. “That year, I took him to the airport every Friday night so he could go play games in the U.S.” He was fitted with prosthetics when he was less than a year old, says the elder Lancia. “Right away, he crawled to a chair to help himself up and he stood up,” he says. “And he's been on the move ever since.”

From his father's Italian roots, Lancia has developed a love for cooking. He fondly recalls his nonna and zia making tomato sauce at home. “They had this huge pot that covered all four elements on the stove,” he says.

Having learned a lot from his Zia Lucy, he tried to emulate her radicchio and romaine salad one day. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he knew something important was missing. He broke down and called her, discovering the missing ingredient: salt. “I tried it right after talking to her and lo and behold I had discovered the secret," he says with a laugh. "It's all in the details.”

For mother Elizabeth and sister Valerie, the trip to watch Adam bring home gold at the Summer Paralympics in London was unforgettable. They call it the trip of a lifetime. “It was absolutely fabulous," says Elizabeth. "He couldn't stop saying thank you for being here often enough. And a big, big smile would cross his face every time he saw us.”

As the countdown to Rio continues, the most challenging part of his journey to date — finding motivation to train when it's easier to relax — is not that different than any other athlete, he says. To counter this, he keeps his competition in mind: particularly the country Team Canada has faced off against in the last three gold medal games at the Paralympics. “One thing that drives me is the fact that I know there are Australians out there training.”

But winning gold has been well worth all the hours of rigorous preparation. “It's the flat-out most amazing feeling I've had so far in my life.”

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