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Semi grad serves her country

Jordan Funnell

Jordan Funnell had already tried it all when Peace Arch News first met her in 2007.

The outgoing 15-year-old, who was born with her left arm incomplete below the elbow, was an accomplished equestrian rider who had dabbled in everything from skateboarding to basketball.

“I just love being outside and doing stuff, especially sports and my horseback riding. Although volleyball is out, I think,” Funnell said at the time.

Flash forward four years, and where else can she be found but the volleyball court.

And she doesn’t take the sport lightly, either.

Funnell, now 18, is a member of Team Canada’s sitting volleyball squad, and has her sights set on a career that will include at least two Paralympics.

“I want to push volleyball as far as I can.”

The Semiahmoo Secondary grad had already been playing volleyball through school and a Surrey club when she was introduced to the sitting version of the game by a friend, who is a leg amputee.

Funnell tried it for the first time at a small camp held in the area a couple years ago.

“I had never heard of sitting volleyball before,” she said. “It’s a whole other level of volleyball.”

The rules are the same as standing volleyball, except the net is lower; the court is smaller; serves can be blocked; and players sit with their pelvises in contact with the court, using their arms to move around.

Funnell trained for a few months by working out and playing with friends before flying to Edmonton to practise with the national team, which the coach invited her to join.

“When I started, we had four players and were trying to desperately build the team from anything we could,” she said, noting sitting volleyball is already well established in Europe.

In the past two years, the Canadian team has grown to 11 players – including White Rock resident Danielle Ellis – who have physical disabilities and who live across the country.

“We definitely have a very strong friendship, we’re all super close,” she said.

“I think it’s easier to be yourself around someone who knows exactly what you’ve been through.”

Funnell travels every three weeks from her South Surrey home to Edmonton, where she trains on weekends with teammates at the University of Calgary, University of Alberta or other area schools.

It’s a demanding schedule that’s in effect year-round.

“We don’t have a season – our team trains really hard all the time throughout the year,” she said.

“It’s very physically straining to work that hard for three days then not train with your team for a long time.”

The squad tested its abilities against more developed squads – including Russia, Britain, Japan, the U.S., Lithuania and Germany – at World Championships in Oklahoma last July.

“All of them have been playing for a lot longer than us,” Funnell said.

The competition proved to be a challenge for Team Canada, whose starting lineup suffered injuries ranging from broken thumbs to a dislocated shoulder.

It was in the final game against Britain, at the end of the first set, that Funnell experienced her own drawback – her prosthetic arm broke.

“We tried different things to fix it up,” she said, noting she experimented with medical tape and tensor bandages before settling on pink duct tape to hold the arm together while she waited for a new one to be made.

Funnell won’t have to worry too much about that happening again, now that she is using a prosthetic especially designed for volleyball.

The arm – which she just received a few weeks ago – has a foamy material on the forearm that absorbs the impact of the ball, as well as a curved hand that makes it easier to set the ball and push her body around the court.

She’ll be putting it to good use in March, when her team travels to London for a competition, and again in September, when they compete in the Parapan Am Zonal Championships in Brazil.

At the latter contest, Canada will be looking to beat the host team in order to qualify for the 2012 Paralympics.

“I can’t really wrap my head around it yet,” Funnell said of possibly representing her country at the Summer Games.

“I’m trying to focus on right now, because all that determines what happens in the future.”

Funnell is also looking forward to a fall tour of Europe with her teammates, who she said have improved drastically.

“Our whole team has come so far – we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” she said.

“A lot of coaches have said we’re the future.

“Even if it’s not at 2012, some day, we’ll be on top.”

Funnell is now hoping her sponsor from last year – Canadian Athletes Now Fund – picks her up again.

The more donations the non-profit organization receives, the better the chances she – and countless other athletes – will be funded, she noted.

Funnell will find out in the next few weeks if she has been chosen.

To donate, or for more information about the Canadian Athletes Now Fund, visit