Canadian wheelchair basketballer Adam Lancia gears up for fourth Rio Paralympics

Morning practice has ended and the Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team heads out for a quick lunch.

But veteran Adam Lancia still has work to do on his wheelchair before he can eat and rejoin his teammates in preparation for the Rio Paralympics.

The three-time Paralympic medallist is viewed by some teammates as a one-man NASCAR pit crew, always looking for ways to gain an edge with his equipment. Lancia guesses that he’s altered at least 30 different frames, replaced over 600 tires and experimented with numerous straps to figure out the best way to keep himself locked into his seat.

“Both sides of my family have tradesmen, mechanics, carpenters, small-engine mechanics, so I’m inclined to do things with my hands,” said Lancia, a double-leg amputee who removes and tosses his prosthetics to the side while replacing the tire on his rim.

“My dad as a mechanic would see things on my chair and say, ‘Hey I can teach you how to fix this.’ And then the next time around I’d be on my own. It came naturally to me. You can see something productive when you fix something.’ ”

The Toronto native, who doesn’t go on the road without his tool box, will be helping to defend Canada’s gold medal at the Rio Games, which open Wednesday.

It’ll be Lancia’s fourth Paralympic appearance after making his debut on Canada’s gold-winning squad at Athens in 2004. Rio could be his final chance at another medal. The 36-year-old is the team’s longest-serving member, having made the national team in 2001, and has taken on a new career that will ramp up in the fall.

“It’s got the potential to be my last Paralympics, certain aches and pains don’t go away like they used to and with a full-time job it’s difficult to foresee how it’ll work,” Lancia said recently at Toronto’s Pan Am Sports Center.

With 27 years of playing experience, including collegiate at the University of Illinois and semi-pro in Europe on top of his successful international career, Lancia was hired to take over the head coaching job with the University of Alabama’s women’s program when he returns from Brazil.

“Transitioning into a full-time job, a coaching position at a very well respected university in one of the more successful women’s programs, to be chosen for that I’m honoured,” said Lancia, who has balanced training with preparing for his new role in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Lancia’s hands-on skills go beyond wheelchair modifications. After four years playing for the Illini (2001-2005), where he earned a degree in kinesiology, he returned to Toronto’s George Brown College to complete the prosthetics and orthotics technician program. Standing six-foot-three, Lancia walks into a room on legs he constructed and designed.

“I haven’t worked in prosthetics in years now. I built these in 2008. I should be on my fourth pair of legs since then,” said Lancia.

Lancia split time in Germany from 2009 to 2011 playing for a semi-pro team while attempting to work as a technician. The balancing act, however, was sometimes too much. He admits that his dedication to wheelchair basketball and what it has taken to represent Canada in four Paralympics has meant sacrifice.

“If I’ve sacrificed anything, it’s a work career for basketball.

“There are times where I’ve thought I don’t know if this was the smartest thing for me to do because I’ve seen guys from high school who started companies, clearing six figures, beautiful home, beautiful cottage and here I am renting the main floor of a 1960s house going month to month playing a sport.”

Preparing for Rio reminds the two-time gold medallist how important wheelchair basketball has been to him.

Lancia says the sport has allowed him to study abroad, play around the world, meet his wife Jamey Jewells (who plays for the Canadian women’s team), have his first child, and now start a new chapter in Alabama.

None of that would be possible without the game, and he hopes that he can give back by teaching young athletes with a disability that there is a lot to life that comes through sport.

“In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have imagined getting as much out of the sport as I have,” said Lancia. “Alabama allows me to pass on what I’ve learned. Another generation can see the options, and it’s not just basketball. There’s things you can take from this and apply everywhere else.”

Lancia and Canada begin play in Rio against Spain on Thursday.