A former national champion and the No. 2-ranked men’s singles player in the country, Joel Dembe is one of Canada’s best chances for a medal at the upcoming Parapan Am Games in his hometown of Toronto. Dembe has been targeting the Parapan Am Games all season-long as a goal of his, and with the tournament now just weeks away he is in the full swing of preparations. Here is what you need to know about Dembe:
Birthdate: March 16, 1984
World Ranking (as of June 15, 2015): World No. 43 Singles / World No. 28 Doubles
Career-High Rankings: World No. 29 Singles (June 10, 2013) / World No. 28 Doubles (May 18, 2015)
Dembe, who started playing wheelchair tennis as a junior at the age of 13 or 14, has taken up Pilates and is playing more tournaments in an effort to be at his best when the Parapan Am Games begin. He has achieved a lot of success this season already, including reaching the singles semifinals and winning the doubles draw at the Uberlandia Wheelchair Tennis Open in Brazil. Dembe and doubles partner Bedard also finished as runners-up at the Quito Open in Ecuador and Jana Hunsaker Memorial in Flushing, New York.
On when he fell in the love with the sport:
I think the moment I first realized how challenging the sport was and how much I wanted to succeed at it was when I attended my first tournament. I realized I had so much I needed to improve to get to the level of the top players in Canada. So just going to my first tournament and playing my first match. Though I did lose, I knew I had what it took to get much better.
On his goal for this season:
My whole goal is to get a medal at the Parapan Am Games. At this point I don’t really care what colour it is, I just want a medal. I think I really have what it takes, especially in doubles. We’re going to be one of the top seeded teams so that’s super exciting. To have the opportunity to win a medal on Canadian soil would be a dream come true.
On playing the Parapan Am Games at home:
I’m really hoping Torontonians get behind the Games and they come out. There’s always so much going on in a city like Toronto but hopefully we get that fan support because it really can make a difference if we get more people behind us. It will give us momentum and allow us to hopefully reach our goals. And from my perspective, it’s going to be so awesome competing about 20 minutes from where I live.
On his proudest moment in wheelchair tennis:
I think just the first time I beat one of the national team players who was ranked ahead of me. As a junior you always look up to the athletes who are ahead of you. I remember feeling so proud when I finally beat one of the older guys on team Canada and I remember that being the first opportunity where I really felt proud about what I had accomplished on the tennis court. From a purely ranking or competitive standpoint, getting into the Top 30 in the world was huge but by far the pinnacle for me was qualifying for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. I worked so hard to get there and I travelled around the world playing tournaments trying to get points and my ranking up, so the moment when I finally got into the Paralympics was without a doubt my proudest moment.
On what might surprise people about wheelchair tennis:
We’re on a big international tour and it mirrors what you see on the ATP and WTA tours. There is prize money, it’s not a lot but if you win the US Open or the French Open, it’s quite a lot. It’s similar to how the able-bodied tours work. The other surprising thing is how international it is. It’s played on every continent, it’s so huge and athlete participation especially in developing countries is the evolution of the game right now. Getting wheelchairs to people who have disabilities in countries like Kenya or Haiti, that’s the next step. We’re seeing more and more participation in developing countries, and that tells you the sport is growing even more and it’s an exciting time for wheelchair tennis.
The 2015 Toronto Parapan Am Games take place August 7-15, with the wheelchair tennis event located at the University of Toronto Scarborough Tennis Centre. Canada will be sending two men and two women to the tournament, with the team set to be announced by early July.