A jersey like no other
Charlotte (Steve Goldberg's Wheel World) - When he was announcing his retirement from international play back in January, Dave Durepos explained it this way: "I have a gift currently in my possession that I have cherished for many years and now is the perfect time to give it away."
He was referring to his Canadian national team jersey.
In this summer of world championships, in basketball, in soccer, in lacrosse and so many other sports, thousands of athletes will pull a jersey over their head with the colors and letters of their national team.
And they will cherish the moment just as Durepos did.
For many of the athletes I've known and interviewed over the years - several who will wear their national team uniforms at the IWBF Men's Wheelchair Basketball World Championships in Korea for the next 10 days, some of whom were competing at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this past month and others who will play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain come August, it is a feeling that has no equal in sports.
An article on the University of Notre Dame's athletic website quoted two of the school's Olympic basketball athletes, Natalie Achonwa who represented Canada in 2012 and Ruth Riley who played on the USA team in 2004.
"To be able to represent your country, travel the world, meet new people and play the game you love, that means everything to me," said Achonwa.
"Cheering on our boys in the recent World Cup games made me extremely grateful for the opportunities I had representing my country playing basketball," said Riley.
"As an athlete, there's no greater honor than wearing a jersey with U-S-A on the front of it."
I had the chance to experience it once, representing the USA in soccer at a Maccabiah Pan American Games. When the time came to trade gear with the other athletes, anything was on the table, especially for the Brazil warmup jacket I coveted. That is, everything except for the USA jersey. That was priceless to me.
And it's just as valuable to professionals making millions.
"But with this, you're not playing for the (Los Angeles) Clippers, you're not playing for the (Golden State) Warriors, you're not playing for the (Portland) Trail Blazers, you're playing for your country."
It's a major motivation for others as well.
"One of my biggest goals was to make the Olympic team and there's no better honor than to play for your country," he said.
Parsons, who is not currently in the USA player pool, says he will use that disappointnent to work harder on his game.
This is not an American thing or a Canadian thing. It's a proud moment for every player on every team in Korea for the World Wheelchair Basketball tournament this week.
And when their time comes to call the end of the day for their national team experience, I hope they feel the same passion and respect and awe for that national team shirt as Dave Durepos did in his words.
"Number four has brought me to many places and has put me on top of the world many times," he said.
"Treat number four with respect, cherish it as much I did, or more if possible, tattoo it on your body if you'd like, be proud to wear it and what it stands for, never take it for granted, and respect all the other numbers that follow it five through 15 as power does come in numbers."
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