08/28/2015 16:31 EDT | Updated 08/28/2016 01:12 EDT

Fresh off Parapan medal, Newfoundland teen aims to be a two-sport Paralympian

CALGARY — Within days of rolling off the basketball court in Toronto with a silver medal around his neck, Liam Hickey was gliding onto the ice on his sledge in Calgary.

It's been a big summer for the 17-year-old from St. John's, N.L. In the last two weeks, Hickey has taken significant steps towards his goal of becoming a two-sport Paralympian for Canada.

The Parapan Am Games in Toronto were Hickey's first major international tournament with the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team. Canada fell 62-39 to the United States in the final and settled for a silver medal Aug. 15 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Their semifinal win over Brazil, however, qualified the Canadian men for next summer's Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Canada is the defending champion and has won three of the last four Paralympic gold medals.

Just over a week after the Parapan Am basketball final, Hickey reported to the national sledge hockey team's development camp in Calgary.

"I want to go to the highest level of each sport," Hickey said after a sledge session in Calgary this week.

"I'm going to do my best to try and make Rio, still focusing on both sports and then hopefully make the team for the next Paralympics for sledge hockey."

Hickey was born missing a femur in his right leg. He was introduced to wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey simultaneously at age eight via an Easter Seals program.

The Grade 12 student at O'Donel High School says his summer and winter sports provide cross-over benefits. 

"Hand-eye co-ordination is a huge part of both sports," he explained. "I found playing in the Parapan Am Games with wheelchair basketball, it even translated into this camp now.

"I didn't really lose my hand-eye co-ordination at all. The last time I played sledge was over three months ago, so I think (basketball) really helped."

Canadian sledge team coach Ken Babey sees Hickey's hoops skills on the ice at sledge camp, which concludes Saturday with an intra-squad scrimmage.

"When he gets the puck or somebody else on his team has the puck, he's trying to get open and that's a basketball thing. They're always trying to get open," Babey said. "We love that because we've got to get better at scoring."

Hickey came off the bench to finish sixth in Canadian team scoring at the Parapan Ams with 55 points in six games.

"As a rookie on the team at the age of 17, he played outstanding," said Steve Bialowas, who coached Canada's wheelchair team in Toronto. "He's an integral part of our team.

"He's very demanding of himself, which is very good. He really pushes himself and he wants to be the best and I encourage him to do that."

Hickey was in the national sledge team's talent pool for the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but lacked the international experience at age 15 to make the team.

"He's skilled, he's smart, he's fast, he's coachable, he's trying to learn," Babey said.

"He needs to get some more experience playing the game because if he's playing other sports, he doesn't get the ice time. If he can try to find a way to balance both, that's going to be his challenge being a double athlete."

Canada's sledge team has won five Paralympic medals, including gold in 2006.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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