Joanne Berdan to be first Paralympian inducted into U of T Sports Hall of Fame
“I didn’t realize how many barriers we were breaking; how many changes we were making for athletes with disabilities”
This August, when 1600 athletes will arrive in Toronto to compete at the 2015 Parapan Am Games, University of Toronto alumna and Paralympian Joanne Berdan will be there to celebrate.
“I already have my tickets to the opening ceremonies and for the women’s shot put and javelin events,” says the multiple gold medalist. “I’m so excited.”
Berdan (nee Bouw), who graduated in 1986, was one of Canada’s highest-achieving athletes in the late 1980s and early 90s. On May 28, she will add another accolade to her long list of honours when she is inducted into the U of T Sports Hall of Fame. The 28-year-old tradition has welcomed over 250 athletes, builders and teams; 2015 marks the first year that the University is adding a para-athlete into its record books.
“It was a surprise, to be inducted,” Berdan admits. “I am excited to be the first Paralympian inducted into the U of T Sports Hall of Fame.”
Berdan’s prolific list of accomplishments in javelin, shot put and discus proves her place in not only the U of T Sports Hall of Fame, but the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame. She held world records in these events (for athletes with cerebral palsy) for 12 years. In 2002, Berdan was a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal. In 1986, she was nominated for the title of Canadian Female Athlete of the Year – a distinction held by greats such as speed skater Cindy Klassen, wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc (who receives an honorary degree from U of T this year) and hockey's Hayley Wickenhesier.
“I believe that my nomination was the first for an athlete with a disability,” says Berdan. “Even though I didn’t get the achievement of being the athlete announced, I am very proud of the nomination.”
Of all of her memorable moments, it’s no surprise that winning three gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Paralymics is a major career highlight for her. But it’s not just because she was such a regular at the top of the podium.
“As you get older, you have more time for reflection,” Berdan says. “When you’re an athlete in the midst of competing you’re just so focused on the now. I guess I didn’t realize how many barriers we were breaking; how many changes we were making for athletes with disabilities.”
She says that the Barcelona Games also represent when para-sports were taken out of the “special interests” section of the newspapers and moved into the sports pages.
“Paralympian is now part of our vernacular. It never was before. I’m very proud to have played a role in making that change happen.”
Join the University of Toronto in celebrating Berdan and the other 2015 Sports Hall of Fame inductees at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport May 28. Tickets are $30 for adults, and $15 for children 12 & under.
Valerie Iancovich is a writer with the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto.