“You can complain about anything every single day of your life, or you can get out there and live your life.”
Richard Peter doesn’t remember his accident, but he’s read the court cases and shared his experience with rooms of schoolkids so many times that he more or less has the details down.
“I wanted to go play and have fun with all my friends, so I tried to run and catch up to the school bus. But the bus driver didn’t see me behind him, and he backed up right over me,” says Richard, 41, who grew up in a Cowichan reserve near the island town of Duncan. “The only reason I lived was that I fell into a puddle—he ran right over my chest.”
As with any spinal cord injury, the injury didn’t just happen to Richard—it happened to his whole community. And, if the accident itself doesn’t stick out in Richard’s mind, the support he received afterwards does. Workers from Spinal Cord Injury BC (formerly the BC Paraplegic Association) visited the small boy in rehabilitation and later at his Duncan home, and helped his parents adapt to caring for a child in a wheelchair.
“A spinal cord injury doesn’t happen to one person—it happens to their whole community.”
His siblings, cousins, and friends continued to challenge Richard in a variety of sports. And, slowly, the small town of Duncan adjusted too, taking note of how inaccessible most public buildings were and even arranging for a wheelchair basketball demo team to play at Richard’s high school.
“A BCPA [ Spinal Cord Injury BC] worker got me one of my first sports chairs,” Richard says. “The first time I played wheelchair basketball, I didn’t even know that there was a Paralympics—I just enjoyed playing sports.”
When, as a teenager, he did finally try his hand at wheelchair sports, Richard, who was used to keeping up with his able-bodied cousins and friends, excelled. He drifted towards team sports, zeroed in on basketball, and soon found himself on the provincial, and then the national, team. “I liked participating in sports and travelling, and the big thing was that I was able to travel off of the island,” says Richard who, on the court, picked up the nickname Bear. “Once I made the provincial team and national team, I started travelling all over the world.”
World Championships offered plenty of opportunities to tour around the globe, as did the Summer Paralympic Games. Richard attended his first Paralympics in 1996, in Atlanta. His team didn’t medal then, but did at every Games to follow, winning consecutive Gold medals in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004), a Silver in Beijing (2008), and another Gold at Richard’s final Paralympics in London in 2012.
Now retired from competition, Richard is a mentor to First Nations and disabled youth groups, and a SCI BC Peer Coordinator. “I’m very thankful,” Richard says. “I’ve had a lot of people support me throughout my life and career, so I’m very happy to give back to the communities. And to promote what you can still overcome and achieve.”
He’s also a killer Scrabble player—though he’s too humble to admit to out-wording his wife, Marni Abbott-Peter, also a wheelchair basketball champion. And this year, he’s co-captain of SCI BC’s Team, the Walk ‘n’ Rollers, in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge. If there’s anyone who can persuade others to step out of their comfort zone and exceed expectations, it’s the local Duncan, BC celebrity—once the small boy chasing after a bus.
“Whatever your disability or situation is, you can sit there and complain about it—you can complain about anything every single day of your life—or you can get out there and live your life,” says Richard.
“Because everybody’s got differences and everybody’s got to live with minor disabilities. Just get out there: overcome, achieve, and enjoy what you can.”