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Innes adds to growing list of North Bay's athletic accomplishments

“I’ve always been fit, and I’ve always worked out, but getting the opportunity to compete at that level I had to live it and breath it."

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Anytime a local athlete competes in a big tournament or on a world stage it is something worth celebrating and North Bay has had its share of athletes do exactly that. For Dave Innes to join a list of well-known names, he says, was a proud and humbling achievement.

“I don’t think a lot of people know how many amazing athletes have come out of North Bay. There’s the popular names out there like Steve Omischl and Kate Pace, but there’s really so many out there,” Innes says.

In 2018 Innes not only competed at the Invictus Games in Australia but also medalled in indoor rowing, bringing back a silver medal.

The Invictus Games were created by Prince Harry as a way to showcase wounded or injured armed services personnel in international adaptive multi-sport events. In addition to indoor rowing, Innes competed in wheelchair basketball and powerlifting.

He says, “No matter where I end up or the levels I compete at, the Invictus Games was, and always will be a special event for me. Everyone that went had their own level of what they wanted to accomplish personally. For me, I’m just a competitive person, so there is that side of it. There’s also the side of some of the people who went as a source of help for their recovery and help get them out of their shell a little bit.”

Innes was paralyzed from the bottom of his ribs down after breaking his back in several places in a truck accident during military training in 1990. He says from the moment he thought about competing at the games he treated his training like it was a job.

Innes says, “I’ve always been fit, and I’ve always worked out, but getting the opportunity to compete at that level I had to live it and breathe it. I sourced out trainers in the fields that I was going to be competing in. Larry Sheppard was a massive help to me and I took on a really good rowing coach from Sudbury who specializes in para-rowers. I also reached out to Trista Bernier who is a nutritionist in North bay and she was able to give me some pretty good pointers.”

With all that hard work and encouraging advice surrounding him, Innes says when it came time to head “Down Under” his goal was to bring back some hardware.

“I went there just knowing I trained as much as I could and as best as I could and as much as they push the message that Invictus is not about winning medals, it’s about just giving it your personal best. In my head, I thought ‘I’m not going there to not try and win a medal’ and I think that’s what helps you in your training.”

The games are comprised of nine different sports including indoor rowing, wheelchair basketball and powerlifting as well as sitting volleyball, archery, cycling and even wheelchair rugby.

Innes says the technology involved has come a long way to allow athletes with disabilities to compete in these adaptive sports.

“It’s crazy the technology out there now. There’s literally no end to what you’re able to compete in, regardless of your disability,” says Innes. “It’s limitless to what’s out there now from the handcycle bikes to the training equipment that’s being made. It’s all accessible and it’s pretty amazing to compare it to what they had 30 years ago when I had my accident.”

Even with the Covid-19 outbreak, Innes says he is still training as much as he can, “I’m sticking to my two workouts every day in my ‘man cave’ gym in my basement because that will really make the difference once I hit the water. The opportunities kind of fell apart through rowing, so I’ve transitioned into para-kayaking. I’m hoping to get into some provincial and national races this summer and work hard to get into the international world stage by the end of the season.”

With his 49th birthday coming up at the end of the month, Innes says it will take a lot of hard work, but he has his sights set on the 2024 Paralympic Games. “It’s unfortunate that this year's games got cancelled but it is what it is, so if I can hold my body out for another four years I will.”  

Innes has an active social media presence in which he is constantly sharing messages of positivity or giving advice on what he’s doing to stay active and fit on any given day. He says it is an inspirational device that works both ways.

“I think it’s a great motivational tool. I’ve been invited to do public school presentations and talking to the kids. The feedback I get from them is great and in return they support me. It’s insane how much support I’ve gotten from everyone in North Bay. So, it’s my way of trying to give back as much as I can in the community whether it’s speaking to the kids at schools or helping out with the Special Olympics teams.

"I’ve even had a few Veterans reach out to me or other people in chairs looking for tips. Anything I can do to keep that positivity flowing, because I truly believe the phrase that ‘one inspires many."

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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