‘Your career is over’ to making Team Canada: Erica Gavel’s journey of never giving up

By Jeff D'Andrea
June 20, 2014 - 6:57am

“You’ll never be able to play sports again,” are the last words any athlete wants to hear.

Prince Albert’s Erica Gavel has heard them before.

In the fall of 2012, as a member of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies basketball team, Gavel was given the bad news after a micro-fracture surgery in her left knee—the third surgery on that knee in a three-year period.

But Gavel found a way to keep playing the game she’s always loved. Less than a year after her surgery, Gavel made the Team Canada’s senior women’s wheelchair basketball team.

She is currently training for the prospects of playing in the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto and the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“To go from that point in my life, to a point where they told me I have a chance to get to the Olympics if I just work hard and put a lot of effort in, it was really overwhelming,” said Gavel. “Obviously, it was something I was going to put 100 per cent in.

“To actually get to that point and reach your goals (of making the national team), I can’t even describe to you how surreal it feels and how accomplished you feel—not even by yourself but through all the support you’ve received from everyone.”

Her journey to get to the position she’s in is one of resilience and accomplishment, but also one of full of tears and excruciating rehab.

After her micro-fracture surgery, Gavel was told that not only would her basketball career be over, she may never be able to run again.

“To be told you’ll never be able to play sports again, it’s extremely devastating,” said Gavel after Carlton Comprehensive High School’s Sports Banquet on Wednesday.

“When you live an athletic lifestyle, every decision you make impacts your performance.

“When that is taken away from you, you’re lost. You don’t really know what to do. You get really bored and it’s really depressing.

“With the micro-fracture surgery, I was on crutches for 11 weeks, so I was on crutches from September 21st (2012) until my last final,” added Gavel. “At the end of November, I really had a low. Physical activity was a way I coped with my problems and to not able to cope with such a big problem, I was pretty devastated.”

For most athletes, the journey to get back onto the court would have stopped there. But there isn’t anything that Gavel hates more than giving up.

While still on crutches, Gavel was looking for an activity to keep active. She came across wheelchair basketball, stopped in for a shoot-around during a practice and fell in love. Little did she know at the time, that one practice would be the opening paragraph in an important chapter in Gavel’s life.

“I had no intention of ever doing anything with it, but when my trainer (Bruce Craven) found out, he pretty much said to me ‘you need listen to me and you’ll be on Team Canada,’” said Gavel. “I worked extremely hard and I trained six days a week, roughly four hours a day. Everything’s very systematic and every decision I make is based around my training.

“I do sacrifice a lot, but at the end of the day, I’m much happier with the sacrifices I’ve made than I would have been if I had to make those small decisions.”

Now, Gavel is a full-time player with Team Canada’s senior women’s basketball team and was a part of Team Canada’s bronze medal finish at the Toronto Challenge in March 21.

On March 30 in Edmonton, Gavel led Team Saskatchewan to their first-ever Junior National Championship. She also earned a full-five year ride with the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, where she was named the team’s Most Improved Player in her rookie year in 2013-2014. The Crimson Tide finished in second place in the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Championships. 

Gavel would be playing at the Women’s World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Toronto on June 20-28, but won’t participate as she broke her hand.

Gavel was the guest speaker at the Carlton Sports Banquet on Wednesday and saw her younger sister Kaila presented with the Outstanding Senior Female Athlete of the Year Award. She won two of those herself in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

“Hands down, I would not have accomplished anything without this school (Carlton), the University of Saskatchewan, or Sask Sport,” said Gavel. “Just the support I’ve received, it’s super overwhelming and I’ll be forever grateful.

“If I can make the smallest difference in someone’s life just by telling them my story, I’d be the happiest person in the world.”

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On Twitter: @jeff_dandrea

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