Prior to the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Para Pan Am Games, ice sledge hockey superstar Billy Bridges was recognized for his inspiring legacy as an elite disabled athlete by having the opportunity to participate in the Para Pan Am Torch Relay. Adding to the magic of this milestone was the fact that his spouse, CWHL co-founder and Triple Gold Club for Women member Sami Jo Small joined him.
Of note, they had the opportunity to be part of a historic torch relay. Two separate Para Pan Am flames were lit on August 3, the first day of the torch relay. Flames were lit in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, along with iconic Niagara Falls. The five day journey, the largest ever for a Para Pan Am Games, consisted of 250 torchbearers and 700 kilometers on the road, culminating in the two flames unifying in Toronto.
Bridges and Small had the privilege of unifying both flames at David Pecaut Square near Toronto’s City Hall. In addition, legendary Paralympic athlete Rick Hansen, immortalized for his Man in Motion tour, was also on-hand for the ceremony. From there, the unified flame travelled to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and then, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.
The chance to participate together is an extension of their commitment to participating together in sporting endeavors, while supporting each other. When Bridges captured a bronze medal in ice sledge hockey at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, Small was proudly in attendance. The two have also participated as instructors in ice hockey clinics, including a memorable event in Iceland, working with The Women of Winter founder Deirdre Norman, expanding the game to another corner of the globe.
Having made Toronto their adopted home, the city has held special meaning for both. Bridges juggles being a world-class athlete while studying at the University of Toronto. Small not only captured her first Clarkson Cup championship as a member of the Toronto Furies, she had the opportunity to compete in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game held in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Perhaps one day, both shall deservedly gain induction into Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame.
Their mutual participation in the Para Pan Am torch relay was not only a fitting tribute to their accomplishments, but an extension of their remarkable service as athletic ambassadors. One of the great power couples in hockey, along with Canadian sport, the heartwarming journey of Bridges and Small signifies how sport can help the disabled build self-esteem and confidence, while providing inspiration to people of all backgrounds.