That Sudbury Sports Guy: From Special Olympian to basketball sharpshooter, spectrum of Sudbury talent never ends


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Immersed in the local sports scene for the majority of my now 60 years on Earth, I have become keenly aware of the broad spectrum of activities in the Sudbury basin. On almost a daily basis, I am catching wind of news and achievements of athletes involved with pretty much every sport imaginable.

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Two more to highlight today, with perhaps very little crossover in terms of the sporting worlds in which they exist and thrive, yet both equally deserving of the spotlight that now shines their way.

Thirty-five-year-old Special Olympian Mathieu Gervais has been involved with the program since the age of 10 — not long after his younger brother, Eric, took a liking to sport. And while he has enjoyed success at a national level, initially in bowling and now on the snowshoes, he’s been more than a little unlucky in terms of pursuing his dream of attending the Special Olympic World Games.

While bowling was not recognized at the Games on a global level when Gervais claimed gold at a Canadian five-pin event a few years back, his road to glory via his winter passion seemed a given, cracking the Team Canada roster after a four-medal performance (two gold, two silver) in Thunder Bay in early 2020.

After both the 2021 and 2022 events fell victim to the global pandemic, Kazan, Russia stepped in as host city for 2023 and hope remained high — until war broke out with Ukraine, with World Special Olympics organizers confirming in early March that the festivities planned for one year from now had also now been cancelled.

All of which takes nothing at all away from the impressive performances that Gervais has enjoyed, displaying a great deal of athletic versatility in the process.

“I am pretty good at the 100 metres — that’s where I got my gold — well, that and the 400 metres,” he said recently. “You just try and get your mind off the (starting) gun, get your mind off your opponents and get your mind on the track.

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“And then as soon as you hear the gun, you go.”

And go he did, at one point slashing a full 12 seconds off his personal best time in the 400-metre race. 

He did make note, however, of the fact that track conditions are critical when it comes to maximizing his potential.

“Lately, I’ve been struggling to get my 400 going good again because I’m on our track, where the snow is all mixed up — soft and hard; you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Gervais said.

“On the groomed track (in Thunder Bay), I just ran my guts out. It really does help you appreciate the surface of the track. You appreciate what you’re running on. When it’s nice and smooth, you appreciate it.”

That is something that coach and father Jean-Gilles Gervais understands all too well, when he assembles his current roster of seven or eight snowshoe regulars in Sudbury.

“We use the small (200-metre) track at Laurentian,” explained Jean-Gilles, assisted in his coaches duties by both his wife, Lise, and volunteer coach Karley Albrecht. “If we didn’t have any snow for a week, then the track would be really packed down and it would be fine. But every time we had fresh snow, it made it harder for the athletes because they had to pack through it.

“They couldn’t get their speed that they normally get.”

When the conditions are ideal, however, Mathieu is able to show his stuff, a very special Special Olympian indeed. “I personally think the 100 metres is his favourite and what he is best at,” said Albrecht. “He has a really explosive start and he’s very good at accelerating quickly and maintaining that acceleration and speed throughout the whole race.”

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With the cancellation of the 2023 World Games, national organizers have decided to bring together the entire roster of the team that would have represented Canada in Russia, hosting a multi-day celebration in Toronto.

LaPierre to Lakers 

Former Lasalle Lancers basketball sensation Noah LaPierre also had plenty of reason to celebrate recently. The now 24-year-old guard had stepped away as a player from the sport he loved back in the summer of 2020, following three years with the Brock Badgers.

With academic demands ramping up at the time, this seemed like a logical decision. 

“I had my internship at Brock (Performance Centre) lined up and COVID was just getting started,” said LaPierre, sharing some thoughts after the news recently broke of the fact that he had committed to join the Nipissing Lakers in the fall of 2022, looking to complete two years of teachers college as he winds down his OUA eligibility in the process.

“I just thought it made more sense to focus on school.”

That said, the desire to play may not have dimmed quite as much as he let on, a truth that surfaced again during the recent 2021-22 campaign.

“This past year, I was back at Brock to finish my degree (in kinesiology) and worked with the women’s team quite extensively in strength and conditioning,” LaPierre explained.

“Being around high level sport all the time gave me the bug to play again. I lived with three of the guys on the team this year, so we were talking basketball day in and day out. I was still staying in shape and stuff. I’ve been doing skill development with kids during the summer — I always had a ball in my hands.”

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Noah LaPierre in action with the Brock Badgers.
Noah LaPierre in action with the Brock Badgers. Photo by Supplied

Truth be told, LaPierre wasn’t completely comfortable with the tail end of his playing days at Brock. The arrival of yet another new head coach in 2019-20 was just the latest disruption behind the bench of a program that has enjoyed a great deal of success over the past 10 years or so.

“I don’t think that they really believed in me,” LaPierre said. “But after proving myself to three different coaches in three different years, I really did not want to do it all over again. And I think that they thought there was a bit of redundancy on our roster, that I was expendable.”

As one might then expect, the reception that he received upon reaching out to Nipissing coach Thomas Cory was both welcomed and appreciated.

“He responded with some pretty encouraging feedback right away,” LaPierre said. “He was very interested, it seemed, so that was pretty exciting.”   

While the pursuit of teaching is a very natural transition for the acknowledged gym rat, LaPierre still did his homework with regard to a potential fit with the Lakers.

“Before I even reached out to coach Cory, I watched a couple of the Nipissing games and looked at their roster, who will be returning next year, what their depth was at the guard position,” he said.

“It seemed like they could use a little more shooting and I think I can bring a dynamic scoring punch to that team. They’re a scrappy bunch with some length and athleticism. I think I can be of some service, providing some scoring on transition, playing on or off the ball.”

And when it all comes to an end, sometime in the spring of 2024, LaPierre feels confident he will walk away a happy man.

“There’s not a better feeling than when you’re playing and the adrenaline is going,” he said. “I want to go out on my terms, especially given how much I’ve given to the game of basketball.

“I owe that to myself.”

Randy Pascal’s That Sudbury Sports Guy column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star.

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