While representing your country means something special to every athlete, it holds a little added significance for Braedon Dolfo.
Born in Kingstown, St. Vincent, an island country in the Caribbean Sea, life could have turned out very differently for Dolfo.
Dolfo was adopted at 18 months old by Brent and Diana Dolfo, with the family first in Coquitlam before settling in Langley.
As a toddler, Dolfo developed cataracts and chronic uveitis. He was later diagnosed with glaucoma, an eye disease which over time damages the optic nerve and impairs vision. It can deteriorate to the point of complete blindness.
Dolfo underwent several surgeries to try and correct the problem, but at age 11, he lost the majority of his field of vision.
His vision now is best described as peering through a straw, unable to see what is on either side of him.
“Representing Canada means a lot,” the 18-year-old said following a recent training session at North Surrey Secondary.
“Being adopted and coming to Canada, it just brings a lot more meaning.
“It is almost like being saved from a life of poverty.
“I could have been completely blind on an island where I would have just been sitting on the side, maybe selling bananas or something for my family.”
Dolfo left for London on Tuesday, where he will represent Canada at the Paralympic Games.
The Games run Aug. 29 to Sept. 12.
Dolfo will run in the 100m, 200m and 4×100 events. The latter event features another local runner, Dylan Williamson, the guide runner for Dustin Walsh, who is completely blind.
Dolfo only joined the para-athletic national team in 2010, but since then has captured medals at a pair of major meets for Canada, winning bronze in the high jump at the 2011 IPC world championships and then another bronze in the T13 100m race at the 2011 Parapan American Games. Dolfo also holds several Canadian records.
At 18 years of age — and just two months removed from high school graduation at Langley Secondary — Dolfo goes to London with no pressure. Not that he doesn’t expect to contend for a medal.
“I am just looking forward to getting there and enjoying the environment,” he said.
“It is not a pressure meet for me. Right now, the goal is 2016, so just go in and have fun and compete.
“When the 2016 Games come around, it won’t feel as big (having that London experience).”
The past few months have been all about London, training six days a week at the track, and then retreating home for ice baths and proper nutrition.
Not that he is complaining.
“The sacrifice is definitely worth the reward,” he said. “What 18-year-old gets to go to the Olympics?”
Dolfo has been feeling the Olympic buzz ever since early July when Pacific Sport Fraser Valley held a send-off party at Willoughby Community Park for local athletes heading to London.
“It was a proud moment to be able to wear the Canadian flag,” he described.
“Being an athlete that gets to represent your country and go to the Olympics is an amazing thing.
“You get to see little kids smiling and coming up to you and asking for pictures and autographs.
“It means the world to them and it really means the world to you. You are inspiring people.”
Dolfo will be joined in London by his parents, his younger siblings — 15-year-old Keynan and 13-year-old Tanika — as well as grandparents.
Following the Games, Dolfo will begin his first year at Trinity Western, where he will also compete on the Spartans’ track and field team.