MORRISBURG – How many people get to play the sport they love while representing their country? Many will never get that chance, but 18-year old Morrisburg resident Austin Merkley gets that chance at the end of September.
Merkley, a Grade 12 student at Seaway District High School will compete in Italy on the Canadian men’s electric wheelchair hockey team.
That team is competing in the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Championships in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy September 24th to October 1st.
Merkley, who was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at age 10, uses an electric wheelchair for much of his day. Active in sports since he was very young, he has played any sport he could, from hockey to soccer, baseball to skiing. Hockey is by-far his favourite sport. He played hockey in the South Dundas Minor Hockey Association.
He was introduced to the sport of Powerchair Hockey in Ottawa through Camp Merrywood. At the time he was involved in downhill skiing. After some convincing, Austin switched from skiing to hockey.
“He started playing with the group in Ottawa, and enjoyed it a lot,” said Wayne Markell, Austin’s father.
“It’s great, you can do a lot in the game. There’s some contact, it’s pretty competitive,” Austin said.
This is the first time Canada has been invited to compete at the world championships.
Austin is one of 10 players on Team Canada.
“There are two from Ottawa, two from Calgary and six from Toronto,” said Judy, Austin’s mom.
In addition to the players, there are family and attendants for the players.
The sport has its own set of challenges. International Powerchair Hockey has some different rules over in Europe compared to Canada.
Instead of penalties, there is a yellow card, red card system similar to soccer. The goals are different too, with a wide and low goal used in Europe instead of a traditional hockey-net style goal in Canada.
Despite the differences between the continents, Austin is very excited to compete and looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s great to have been chosen to play,” Austin said. “I get to play for my country, and play a game I love.”
While Austin is looking forward to the tournament, he has his eyes set on a career in the hockey world off the ice.
“I want to be a sports broadcaster,” he said.
He already has some experience in that field, interviewing members of the Ottawa Senators last winter for a TSN broadcast.
The family has started a GoFundMe page to assist with transportation and travel expenses for the trip. Click here for the link.
Note: The September 12th edition of The Leader incorrectly spelt Merkley’s last name as Markell. The Leader apologizes for the error.