Alexandre Hayward only started cycling during the pandemic, and now, he’s a multi-medal Parapan American Games winner.
The Quispamsis cyclist walked away with a hefty haul — two gold, a silver and a bronze — the most medals for a Canadian athlete at the Games.
Before COVID-19, Hayward was involved in wheelchair basketball, where he captained the national junior team and played for New Brunswick at the Canada Winter Games.
But he found that the pandemic made it increasingly difficult to get into a gym and keep up with his basketball fitness.
So in came cycling. He started it as a way to stay fit, but it just kind of “snowballed.”
“Having had a spinal cord injury in 2012, I struggled a little bit to get to do sports with my friends and kind of feel like I didn’t need some kind of adaptation,” said Hayward, who is also a 2023 University of New Brunswick engineering graduate.
“Cycling was probably the first sport that I did where I could just join a group and fit in and if my injury never came up, it didn’t matter. So I got a little bit hooked on that feeling.”
According to the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s website, Hayward broke his neck in 2012 when he was 16 during a hockey game. He was considered a candidate for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League that year, the site says.
It goes on to say that Hayward can use his arms and legs, but all four of his limbs are impaired.
The normalcy of cycling was something that appealed to Hayward.
“No matter how much you recover from having a big injury, you always feel a little bit like you stick out or aren’t quite like everyone else. And I think being able to attend cycling events and fit in completely is really special to me.”
WATCH | The moment Alex Hayward turns his one gold medal into two:
Featured VideoAlex Hayward of Quispamsis, N.B., wins gold in the men’s 3,000-metre C1-3 individual pursuit for his third medal at the Parapan American Games in Santiago. Hayward topped the podium in the men’s C1-5 time trial on Sunday then won bronze in the C1-5 1,000m individual time trial on Thursday.
The Parapan Am Games in Santiago, Chile, finished up on Sunday and five New Brunswick athletes competed. Four of them, including Hayward, took home medals.
Sally Hutt, the executive director of Parasport New Brunswick, said it was an exciting week, beginning with the start of the week when Hayward snatched his first gold medal in a time trial.
The other medal-winning New Brunswick athletes include Bernard Lapointe with a bronze in para badminton, Colin Higgins with a team bronze in wheelchair basketball and Desiree Isaac-Pictou with a team silver in wheelchair basketball.
Hutt said for a lot of athletes, the biggest thing about being involved with para sport is having a sense of community.
She said her message to people who might want to get into the world of para sports is to reach out, and that it’s never too late or early to get involved.
“It’s a beautiful space to be involved with,” she said.
“Even though it’s scary, we can do hard things … and there’s somebody here who has gone through something similar.”
An adventure every ride
For Hayward, the Games held many special moments — from his wins to having his parents there to watch.
And his run with cycling isn’t over yet. He’s heading to Australia next month to train for a World Cup which will take place at the beginning of the new year.
Ever since he started para sport, Hayward said the Paralympics have been a goal, and now he feels like he’s finally “headed in the right direction.”
But the sport for him is also about more than winning. He said cycling opens up a new world of adventure.
“All the other sports that I’ve ever done were either in a rink or in a gymnasium,” said Hayward.
“And the fact that every time we get to go on trips, I get to … see the world at 30 kilometres an hour is a bit of a cherry on top.”