Wearing the red and white, 80,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs – Joel Dembe can’t wait for either to happen.
As the Paralympic Games in London near, the Brock alumnus will experience both in a few weeks when he takes to the courts to compete against the world’s best in wheelchair tennis.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Dembe said about his first Paralympics. “Your first Paralympics is special. It’s going to be awesome.”
Dembe, 28, has spent the past 16 months getting ready for this level of competition.
In March 2011, he quit his marketing job in Toronto’s financial district to pick up his racket full-time. At the time, Dembe was the fourth-ranked player in Canada but hadn’t cracked the top 100 in world.
By that July, a determined Dembe netted the top player ranking in Canada and worked his way comfortably into the middle of the pack among the top players in world. Today, he is ranked the 36th best wheelchair tennis player in the global pool.
As quick as his ascent to the top was, it certainly wasn’t easy. Those early months were marked by self-doubt, particularly when Dembe didn’t get the nod to attend the World Team Cup – the Davis Cup of wheelchair tennis – in South Africa in May 2011.
“I was pretty upset at that but it was probably a good thing because it allowed me to focus on my training,” he said.
That training includes 15 to 20 hours a week with his coaches. There’s also time with trainers, doing basket and fitness training, cardio, physiotherapy, trips to the chiropractor and “everything that revolves around letting me be the best at my discipline,” Dembe explained.
It has been time well spent.
In May, he handily worked his way to the World Team Cup in South Korea where he was served up a glimpse of the competition he’ll see in London. He’ll likely face some of the same players at the Paralympics.
In the past year, Dembe has competed in 20 events on four continents.
“In hindsight, (leaving my job) doesn’t seem like a tough decision now,” he said. “For me to make the decision at the time was definitely something I was thinking about or worried about.”
Dembe will take to the court in London starting Sept. 1. Though he’s focused on the competition at hand and improving his world standings, Dembe is also thinking about life after the Games.
He said he’d like to focus on working in sports, using his bachelor’s degree in sport management that he received at Brock in 2007.
“There were so many opportunities for me to grow at Brock,” Dembe said. “It was definitely one of my best experiences in life. It definitely allowed me to become more independent.”
Motivational speaking, medalling at the 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto in front of friends and family before possibly competing at the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 are all on his to-do list, too, Dembe said.
“There’s always going to be something in tennis for me.”