Paralympic Games
7-18 September

Sport Week: From USA to Canada, Orr keeps it pro

The former US wheelchair rugby coach has put Team Canada in good position for their first Paralympic gold. 12 Jun 2016
Wheelchair rugby coach in wheelchair yells instructions

Kevin Orr coaches Team Canada against Team Sweden in wheelchair rugby action at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

ⒸMatthew Murnaghan/Canadian Paralympic Committee
By Beau Greenway | For the IPC

Kevin Orr has coached the Canadian wheelchair rugby squad to become the world’s No.1 ranked team. But ultimately, the top prize would be guiding Canada to their first ever Paralympic gold medal, which can be done this September at Rio 2016.

Ironically, Orr was once part of Canada’s fiercest rival, the USA, a team Canada could potentially face in the gold-medal game.

“I look at coaching Canada as a professional opportunity and feel fortunate to still be able coach at the highest level,” Orr said.

Orr coached his home nation the USA through their Athens 2004 Paralympic campaign before, ironically, losing to Canada and taking home the bronze medal, which led to his dismissal as coach.

He then took a break from the sport, taking on a position as one of the US wheelchair racing track coaches during the Beijing Paralympics campaign. He then applied for and was picked as the head coach of Canada’s wheelchair rugby team in 2009.

“The Canadian system is very professional. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a professional, full-time coach in a sports system that treats Paralympic sport at the same level as their Olympic programme,” Orr said.

“The athlete pool is much smaller in Canada, but the services we are able to provide helps bridge the lack of depth.”

However, Orr does not believe there has been any extra intensity between the USA and Canada since his switch to the arch rivals in 2009.

“When you have two programmes that are very high calibre, the intensity is highlighted by what is at stake,” he said.

“There are no players that I have coached currently playing for team USA.”

Orr believes his biggest strength as a coach is his passion, while tactically and technically he has been able to refine the team to perform at a high level.

In Canada’s first World Championships under Orr in 2010, the team finished fifth. But that was just the beginning, improving far enough to reach the finals at London 2012 but left with silver. They had another runner-up finish in the 2014 Worlds.

By the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games, where wheelchair rugby was featured for the first time, Canada defeated the USA in a thrilling final for the gold medal and qualified themselves for Rio 2016.

“I believe the team has pulled closer together and we can play multiple styles of play, no longer one-dimensional,” Orr said.

He is confident things are coming together for Canada, with all players healthy and ready to push to be in prime condition for Rio.

He said the No.1 ranking does not add any extra pressure on his side.

“The biggest pressure is the overall depth of the competition,” Orr said.

“The other seven teams are strong and I'm sure there will be a few surprises.

“Every team has a new player that could have a breakout performance that can propel them onto the podium.

“We cannot overlook any opponent, we need to limit unforced errors and enjoy the moment.”

After falling short in the final against Australia at London 2012, Orr believes Canada is better positioned to win that elusive Paralympic gold.

A gold medal would not only be the first at a Paralympic Games for team Canada, but also Orr’s first as a coach.

“I would be fulfilling a lot of dreams to win the gold medal in Rio,” Orr said.

“The stakeholders and the way the nation has embraced wheelchair rugby, this could be a big boost for Paralympic sport in Canada.”

Canadian rising star Miranda Biletski said she is grateful for the faith coach Orr has in her and that gave her the opportunity to establish herself on the national squad.

“I have the utmost respect for Kevin as a coach,” Biletski said.

“I truly do not believe I would be on the national team and doing as well as I have if it wasn't for him.

“He saw something in me years before anyone else.

“Shortly after coming to the Canadian programme he spotted me at a tournament and invited me to a training camp well before I thought it was even possible,” she said.

Rio 2016 will be Orr’s fifth Paralympics after competing at Seoul 1988 as a wheelchair racer, Athens 2004 as USA wheelchair rugby coach, and Beijing 2008 as a USA wheelchair track coach. But to his players, Orr also transcends beyond his athletic and coaching resume.

“He's a coach that truly cares about our lives outside of sport and pushes us to succeed in all of our pursuits,” Biletski said.

Editor’s note: Each sport on the Rio 2016 Paralympic programme will have a dedicated week of featured content published on Every week a new sport will be featured and the series will run until September’s Games, helping the public understand more about the 22 sports being contested in Rio.


Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)

The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.

Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.