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Sopotyk wins bronze in wheelchair racing at Canada Summer Games

Kyrell Sopotyk: “I left it all out on the track to be able to get that third-place finish.”

Kyrell Sopotyk’s arms were burning, pulsating pythons working at a furious pace.

The 20-year-old Team Saskatchewan athlete was in fourth place in the 1,500-metre men’s wheelchair racing event on Wednesday at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games and needed to find an extra gear on the home stretch to hit the podium.

“For me, it’s just determination,” Sopotyk said. “I wanted to get to that finish line. You want to pass that guy. You just kind of push through it. But I was definitely gassed at the end.”

Sopotyk was paralyzed from the waist down in a snowboarding accident in January of 2021, a few weeks before the start of his 19-year-old campaign with the Kamloops Blazers.

Less than two years later, it was time to reach into reserves — it was time for a comeback within a comeback.

“I saw my chance at the end to pull ahead of the one guy and finish third, so I took that and I gave it everything I had left in the tank,” Sopotyk said. “I left it all out on the track to be able to get that third-place finish.”

Leo Sammarelli of B.C. earned gold, with a time of 4:29.39, and Tai Young of Ontario posted a time of 4:35.13 to win silver.

The comeback kid clocked in at 4:40.20, good for bronze and a moment worth remembering at the finish line.

“It was just super exciting, first off, but it was super rewarding,” said Sopotyk, who edged the fourth-place finisher by less than two seconds. “I mean, to know what I’ve been through and the hard work I’ve been putting in toward these sports and to see it finally pay off, yeah, it’s amazing. It’s a good feeling.”

Parents Lori and Bobby Sopotyk made the trip to Ontario from Saskatchewan.

“They haven’t really had the chance to watch me too much in person, so for them to be able to come out to Niagara and cheer me on and to win a medal and see them afterward was pretty special,” Sopotyk said. “I just gave them a hug. They’re proud of me.”

In March of 2021, only two months removed from the life-changing accident near North Battleford, Sask., Sopotyk’s resolve was evident.

“I’ll be in a wheelchair moving forward, a paraplegic, but that’s not stopping me from anything,” he told KTW.

He wasn’t kidding around.

So, what’s next?

“Next, I’ve got two more races here [100m and 400m] and then on Aug. 31 I’m heading to Thailand as part of the Wheelchair Canada basketball under -23 men’s team,” Sopotyk said.

“Sports have been a huge thing to help me move forward and move on with life. It’s been awesome.”