In her very first year of getting serious about boccia, Mildred Thomas is a national champion.
A longtime Fleetwood-area resident, 60, Thomas has competed in several sports over the decades, but is relatively new to boccia.
“I got competitive this year after playing the game recreational,” she said.
“I like the strategy of boccia, and with curling it’s the same idea – I’ve been curling for the last three or four years, in Delta and Langley.
“But boccia isn’t cold,” Thomas added with a laugh. “It’s played in a gymnasium using soft balls, which I throw overhand, unlike some of the others who prefer underhand. I love it, it’s a lot fun, and you meet a lot of people.”
Boccia is a Paralympic sport that can be played by anyone, with or without a disability, according to a post on Boccia Canada’s website (bocciacanada.ca). “Originally designed for people with severe cerebral palsy, it is now enjoyed by players with a wide variety of disabilities. It’s easy for a beginner to pick up quickly, but builds in intensity and complexity as players hone their skills.”
Held annually, the Canadian Boccia Championships involve team, pairs and individual play.
To get there, Thomas won provincial and Western Canada regional competitions.
Born with spina bifida, Thomas has competed in wheelchair sports since she was a girl.
“At age 11 I was into swimming and track and field, in wheelchair sports,” she recalled. “I was the Canadian record holder for the breaststroke, when I was 17 or so – a long time ago now.”
Today, she plays badminton and tennis, too.
“I’ve always loved sports and competition,” Thomas said. “I’m very competitive – I don’t like to lose,” she said, laughing.
Some time ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and was forced to take time off from sports.
“I’m eight years clean, and now I’m back into competing, for the past three years,” Thomas said.
In Victoria at Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence (PISE), 40 athletes represented six provinces at the boccia nationals.
“My first experience has been fantastic,” Thomas said in a release from Boccia Canada. “Watching all of the athletes compete with different disabilities has been amazing and a real eye-opener. It took a lot of determination and I tried to stay confident throughout the tournament. It was a little stressful but I just kept plugging along trying to at least place, which I did in the end.”
Thomas was joined in Victoria by her husband, Blair, who helps when she practices boccia at Newton Recreation Centre and Langley’s Douglas Park.
“Nationals is as far as I can go right now,” Thomas explained.
“I’ll be there next year, for sure,” she added.
“I gotta defend my title!”