Essex native Lavin set to make Paralympic debut for Canada


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It has been a meteoric rise for Essex native Zach Lavin with Canada’s Paralympic hockey team.

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The 25-year-old Lavin never played hockey growing up in the area. After undergoing a double amputation below the knees after a hiking accident in 2016, Lavin jumped into the sport a year late.

On Saturday, Lavin will suit up for Canada against the United States (12:05 EST) when hockey begins at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

“Hockey was pretty much the only sport I didn’t play,” Lavin said of growing up. “I was busy trying all the other sports in high school like wrestling, volleyball, basketball, track and field and badminton.”

A few years after moving to Alberta, Lavin went for a hike in February of 2016 and ended up getting lost in freezing temperatures for three days.

He overcame severe frostbite to his hands, but could not with his feet, which led to the amputation.

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He spent more than a week in hospital being treated for frostbite and then nearly four months in hospital recovering from the surgery, but credits his family and his recovery team for getting him back on track.

“I’m gifted with three amazing siblings (Mackenzie, Curtis and Edward) and amazing parents (Kim and Art),” Lavin said. “I almost felt bad because visiting hours ended at 10 (pm) and still, at 11 (pm), we were still screaming and laughing at each other playing Euchre. It makes the process a lot easier with family like that.”

But it was when he transferred to Carewest to begin his rehabilitation that Lavin’s outlook changed.

“Amazing nurses and therapists, but there was one incident at Carewest,” Lavin said. “There were two patients (in a similar situation to him) and one was always upbeat and said, ‘It sucks, but it’s the life you have now and make the most of it.’ The other was ‘Poor me’ and he just couldn’t digest it.

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“The poor me one stayed there a long time and I’d rather be that (upbeat) guy and get out. I used my Coleman prosthetics in two months and then was able to go home.”

It was a year later when Lavin was introduced to hockey.

“Right around a year after, I met another amputee at a Goodlife Fitness,” Lavin said. “He saw I was a pretty fit amputee and I thought about what to do in life.

“We talked to sports and especially sledge. I went out and watched from the bench and it got pretty exciting.”

Steve Arsenault, who played for the Canadian national team, helped him along.

“(Arsenault) taught me hockey IQ,” Lavin said. “Not so much skills and fitness, but understanding the game.”

Within a year, he was on Alberta’s provincial team.

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“I made the provincial team my first year playing,” Lavin said. “Then, the focus was the next step to make team Canada.”

That came in 2019 when he made Canada’s world team and then again in 2021 before earning his first Paralympic Games spot.

“Now, I’m on a mission to Beijing,” Lavin said.

His game is still growing and he admits there are parts he’s still trying to improve for his overall skill level.

“To propel yourself with your arms while maneuvering the puck around others,” Lavin said. “The ambidextrous part is still tough. Some of my teammates are amazing with their left and right arm.”

What he has embraced is the physical part of the game.

“That’s the part I’m pretty happy with,” Lavin said. “It’s a role I like to take. The fine skills and shooting is something to work on.”

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Canada finished second to the United States at the 2018 Paralympic Games after losing in overtime. The US has also won the last two world championships, but Lavin hopes to be a difference maker for his country’s hopes this year.

“I’m definitely very happy and proud to be named to a Paralympic team, but I don’t think it’s set in,” Lavin said. “We’ve been a solid contending team for a while.

“At the end of the day, we’re a team that has depth. Our veterans are very skilled and we have young guys with a lot of energy and think a team that can compete for a gold medal.”

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