When Jason Roberts won gold in shot put at the Parapan Am Games, last month, he may have shed a few tears on the podium.
“I will not lie, a couple of tears broke out, it felt great to represent this great country of Canada,” says the 19-year-old who recently became a Canadian citizen after immigrating from Grenada when he was 12.
Roberts, who was a Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI) student in 2011, has cerebral palsy, but that hasn’t stopped him from breaking records in track and field. He is the top record holder for javelin, shotput and discus for the F-34 level for athletes with disabilities in the country.
His 10.33 metre distance at the Parapan Am Games is now also the top distance by a Canadian athlete in the F-34 level, which is for people with cerebral palsy who have low-functioning legs but high-functioning upper bodies.
“When I was in high school, there was not much for me to do because of my disability… I played football a little but stopped and then I started track and field,” says Roberts. In grade 12, he was approached by Athletics Canada to be part of a track and field team. Roberts stayed an extra year in high school and trained with coaches.
“From there, it has been a great journey,” says the 19-year-old, who will be starting college this fall. “We went to camps, the nationals in Edmonton and now Parapan Am, which are my first big games.”
On the day he won gold, Roberts says he got simple advice from his coach. “He said to me ‘throw as far as you can’ and that’s what I did,” he says, with a big smile.
He says that a big reason for him to stay in sports is to show differently abled people that nothing can stop them.
“Sometimes people who have disabilities are looked at in a way that they may not be able to do much, but I want to show them that they can achieve great things in life. I am an example of that. Just because you can’t walk, doesn’t mean you don’t have brains. Just because you can’t see, doesn’t mean you can’t hear. Just because you can’t hear, doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to see the world,” says the teenager who wants to work as a child and youth worker in the future.
He says his interest in becoming a YIPI started because he grew up in a low-income neighbourhood where the police were seen as bad guys.
“I wanted to see the other side of that,” he says. “My two months at TPS changed my mind completely, I used to be young and naïve… I saw the police as bad who wanted to put us in jail. But these guys are around protecting the community.”
Roberts ended the YIPI program as valedictorian, something he is proud to have achieved.
As Roberts shakes his head in disbelief as he holds his gold medal, he says that he is now looking forward to representing Canada in the upcoming world championships.