He is known to many simply as Bear, a nod to his strength and the size of his hands, but also the size of his heart. Poll the world’s top wheelchair basketball coaches and players regarding about who they’d choose to build their ultimate dream team around and in the top five would be Duncan’s Richard Peter, warrior on wheels.
A proud member of the Cowichan Tribes, community was a huge part of Peter’s upbringing. Strength of family and his own determination helped him overcome a terrible injury at age four when a school bus backed up over his chest breaking his hip and spinal cord just below the ribcage. Adjusting to life in a small community with few wheelchair-accessible buildings wasn’t easy, but Peter’s strength of character more than met the challenges. He attended public school and tried virtually every sport available. One day his life changed forever.
Wheelchair awareness week brought a touring wheelchair basketball team from Victoria to his school when he was fifteen in 1987. Joining them for a game in front of the entire school in his heavy, hard-to-maneuver chair, Peter held his own and caught the team’s attention. They encouraged him to come to Victoria to train. Soon weekend trips over the Malahat to play were the norm.
Moving to Vancouver to take his game to the next level, the whispers grew louder of this talented kid from Duncan who had the potential to do great things on the court. Learning the ropes from legends like Peter Colistro and George Boshko helped.
In 1994, Peter debuted on the Canadian national team and has been a pillar of strength for Canada ever since helping elevate the program to the best in the world. Beginning in 1996, Peter represented Canada at five Paralympic Games helping capture three golds (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, London 2012) and a silver (Beijing 2008). In world championship play, Peter has been part of one gold medal-winning squad (2006) and three that earned bronze. Six times he led Team BC to the national championship.
Individually, Peter is regarded as one of the fiercest defenders in the world, an effortless scorer, and one of the game’s most sportsmanlike players. Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence to how valuable he is on the court can be seen through the classification system. Each player is classified based on his or her disability—Peter is a 2.5—with the five players on the floor at any time adding up to a maximum fourteen points. Canada traditionally played the maximum until Peter came along, when they actually played under, a situation as rare as Peter’s natural ability.
In the latter years of his career, Peter was still a regular member of the national team and played professionally in Germany with club RSV Lahn-Dill where he lived part of the year with wife Marni Abbott-Peter, herself a BC Sports Hall of Famer. At the same time, Peter was already racking up an impressive array of accolades. Twice named winner of the Tom Longboat Award as Canada’s Male Aboriginal Athlete of the Year, he was also a two-time Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association Male Athlete of the Year, and the 2008 Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Athlete of the Year.
After leading the Canadian wheelchair basketball team to another gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics in London, Peter chose to go out on top, retiring from international competition.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.