A conversation with the 2023 Chatham Sports Hall of Fame inductees – Part 4

Derek Whitson – Photo from Hockey Canada

With four new names being added to the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame this fall, CKSN has contacted the inductees to learn more about their athletic careers.

Today’s interview is with sledge hockey Paralympian and national champion Derek Whitson who is being inducted as this year’s Modern Athlete.

What would you consider your biggest highlight of your career?

The biggest highlight might shock people as it was a smaller event but it meant the most to me to have my family there in attendance. 

It was the 2011 World Sledge Challenge being hosted in London, Ontario. It was the gold medal game and we were facing Norway in front of a sold-out crowd at the Western Fair Grounds complex. 

My family consisted of my parents, siblings, Grandma Whitson, aunts and uncles with a few family friends. I managed to score the opening goal which ended up being the game-winner in an 8-0 win. It was the only game my grandma watched me play in and she was sitting front row. Both my grandma and my dad have passed on so the memory means a lot to me knowing they were both there. 

Who were some of your biggest influencers or mentors in your sports career?

I had so many mentors that I am thankful for! My first mentors were my parents and I am extremely thankful for their guidance as I was growing up. They taught me how to strive for my dreams and always gave me the belief that I could achieve anything if I worked hard at it.

My first mentor in the sport was Ray Grassi, a Paralympic Gold Medalist in Para Ice Hockey who played out of Windsor for the Ice Bullets. We trained together for years and having to chase him around the ice when I first started was never easy!

Dave Grenier was my first coach with the Windsor Ice Bullets. He is one of the kindest and most generous human beings I have ever met. He always believed in me but would challenge me to push me outside my comfort zone. I will always be thankful for his guidance.

Todd Nicholson was a former teammate of mine and former Captain of the Canada National Team. He took me under his wing when I first made the team and pushed me to be better and showed me the ropes. I respect his leadership and class and try my best to this day to follow in his footsteps.

Where you aware you were being considered for the Hall of Fame?

I was aware that I was being nominated about a year in advance and that was a big enough shock for me there. It was an honour to even be thought of and I appreciate the support.

What were your thoughts when you got the call you were being inducted into the HOF?

Shock and disbelief. I was actually in Chatham when I received the call. I had just arrived at the golf course and was with my brother Brock. I honestly expected to hear that others had been chosen and I was ready to congratulate the inductees.

Looking back on my career, I have always felt like I did not achieve my end goal as I never even reached a gold medal game in the Paralympics and always had a lot of questions about things I wish I could have done differently. Like I have unfinished business.

I have always had a lot of respect for the HOF as there are a lot of big names that have been inducted. I always loved reading about each person inducted as it made me feel proud to be from Chatham. Now to be inducted myself I am still in disbelief that it is real.

What would your advice to be to your younger self if you could go back in time and talk to yourself as a teenager?

To enjoy the little moments. I am amazed at how fast my career went. I remember being twenty-five and feeling like I had a lot of time ahead of me even though I was seven years into my career. I retired the next year. It’s been eight years since I stepped away and the things I miss the most are the moments with my teammates in the dressing room, bus rides, and hotels. I loved every moment of training and playing but it’s the laughing and connecting behind the scenes that really make a team become a family.

The awards will be handed out to the class of 2023 on Thursday, September 28 at the Bradley Convention Centre in Chatham. Tickets are on sale now.

Follow CKSN for more from the newest Chatham Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

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