Former university soccer star is heading to the Paralympics for sitting volleyball

Team Canada undefeated at qualifying tournament in Halifax

Payden Olsen started playing sitting volleyball nine months ago. Now she’s heading to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

“If somebody told me I was going to be going to Tokyo for the 2020 Games when I was in the hospital after my accident, I would think they’re crazy,” said Olsen, 21, a member of the Canadian national sitting volleyball team.

“This is such a huge accomplishment for me and the team. I’m so excited for Tokyo!”

The women’s final sitting volleyball qualification tournament for the 2020 Paralympics took place at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax last week. Canada competed against Finland, Germany, Slovenia and Ukraine for the final berth in the Games. The Canadian team dominated the opposition, going undefeated while losing just one set.

Olsen and her teammates beat Ukraine in Saturday’s final in front of about 150 cheering fans.

“It was just such an honour to represent Canada on Canadian soil,” Olsen said. “I’m so thankful we were able to win for Canada and I’m proud to be a Canadian.”

Team Canada celebrates moments after beating Ukraine in the finals of the qualifier.   Will McLernon

Sitting volleyball is a form of volleyball for people with physical disabilities or amputations. The game requires players to sit on the floor at all times. There’s a smaller court and a lower net, leading to a notably faster game than the standing version.

Olsen’s life was turned upside down on July 27, 2018, when her legs were caught in a sitting lawnmower. She was alone in agony for nearly an hour until the paramedics were able to find her in a remote field in her hometown of Cardston, Alta. Doctors saved her left leg, but they were forced to amputate her right foot.

“I felt like my life was over, my whole life was sports and with my leg gone, I didn’t know how I was going to compete,” Olsen said.

Olsen played basketball, soccer and volleyball in high school. She was recruited to the University of Lethbridge to play soccer on the women’s team. Olsen was a star defender, winning Rookie of the Year the season before her accident.

When Olsen was recovering in the hospital, she learned more about amputees and prosthetics, giving her hope that her athletic career wasn’t over. Several sitting volleyball players asked her to try their game.

“Sports have always been my way to escape everything, be happy and enjoy what I’m doing,” Olsen said. “Sitting volleyball gave me a way to release my energy, give myself a focus and find a purpose again.”

Olsen is one of the least experienced players on the national squad, but her growth has been amazing, said coach Nicole Ban.

“She learned how to do all parts of the game really quickly,” Ban said. “I think it comes from her extensive athletic background and her drive to succeed.”

Olsen loves the camaraderie. She’s known for having a great attitude on and off the court.

“Olsen is always the player with a smile on her face,” Ban said. “She’s always supporting and cheering on her teammates.”

Olsen and the rest of the Canadian sitting volleyball team will compete against seven other nations in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

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1 comment

  1. Payden, you’re inspiring! And the Team is VERY fortunate to have you! I’m excited to watch you

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