Growing up, Raphaëlle Tousignant was a very athletic kid. Although she faced
adversity along her path to where she is today, she has made history as the
first woman to play for Canada’s National Para Hockey Team at a major
She got involved with as many sports as she could as a child, but she found
her passion at eight years old with ringette.
“It was my sport,” Tousignant says. “I really enjoyed playing it. I was
living for it.”
During a ringette game, Tousignant fell on her right hip and a bump began to
form, but neither she nor her family thought it would have long-term
“It was very painful,” she explains. “The only time it was not painful was
when I was moving, so that made me even more athletic because I didn’t have
pain when I was running or playing sports.”
The pain and bump persisted, so Tousignant visited her family doctor. That’s
when it became clear that something was not normal. After more testing at
the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Tousignant was diagnosed with
osteosarcoma, a bone cancer found commonly in children.
She began intensive chemotherapy, but when that was unsuccessful at
shrinking the tumour, Tousignant was faced with a 12-hour surgery to remove
her right leg, hip and part of her pelvis.
A month before her amputation, the then-10-year-old was itching to get back
on the ice for what she thought was the last time.
“In my head, I could not do any other sport after my amputation, I wouldn’t
be able to go back on the ice,” she explains. “So, I asked if it was
possible for me to go back on the ice one last time so I can enjoy it and
then move on.”
Surrounded by her teammates and family, Tousignant was able to play ringette
one last time before her surgery on Oct. 17, 2012. A year after her
amputation, as she adjusted to her new reality, her father began exploring
new sports his daughter could participate in, ideally something that could
get her back on the ice.
Raphaëlle Tousignant during a World Para Hockey Championship exhibition game in Moose Jaw, Sask.
That’s when she learned about para hockey. Once she was physically ready to
try the sport, Tousignant went to the rink with her physiotherapist and her
dad to give para hockey a try.
“I just fell in love with it. The feeling to be back on the ice, and it was
pretty similar to ringette,” she says. “After that practice, that first time
I got off the ice, I told my dad, ‘I’m going to make the women’s national
The spark of passion for a new on-ice sport helped her to quickly elevate
her game. At 14, Tousignant became a member of Canada's national women's
para hockey team and travelled to Norway and Czechia to play in
Achieving her first para hockey goal so early into picking up the sport,
Tousignant decided to raise the bar and set a higher goal for herself: to
represent Canada at the Paralympics. However, since women’s para hockey is
not part of the Paralympic program, she would need to play with the men’s
“Everyone was like, ‘That’s not achievable, that’s just unrealistic. You’re
never going to be able to do that,’” Tousignant explains.
With a new goal in sight, Tousignant got to work. Her game improved, and she
made Quebec’s men’s provincial roster when she was 16 years old. Soon
afterwards, Hockey Canada came calling to invite Tousignant to Canada’s
National Para Hockey Team NextGen development camp.
“All this made me believe that I could actually make it happen,” she says.
“I could be a part of the men’s national team.”
Following her first NextGen camp in 2019, Tousignant made history with
Christina Picton as the first two women to play for Canada’s National Para
Hockey Development Team. Tousignant returned to NextGen camp in April 2022
and received an invite to Canada’s National Para Hockey Team selection camp
last September with Alanna Mah.
It was Tousignant’s feistiness, work ethic, communication and vision on the
ice that continued to stand out to the coaching staff at each camp.
“She gets 100 per cent of the credit for her growth,” says Team Canada head
coach Russ Herrington. “She’s a great example of investing in yourself and
what that can do.
“We’ve seen what a great person she is and what a great teammate she is, but
what’s really accelerated over the last year is her ability to make an
impact when she’s on the ice.”
Christina Picton (left) and Raphaëlle Tousignant.
Although Tousignant was not initially part of Canada’s National Para Hockey
Team roster at the beginning of the season, her continued strong
performances at camps this spring garnered a lot of attention.
“It wasn’t just the staff that noticed that—there were a lot of veteran
players on the team who were also advocating on Raph’s behalf,” Herrington
explains. “As a group, we all certainly felt that she had earned her way
into representing Canada on the world stage.”
“I was not expecting to be selected to be part of that team who will be
going to Moose Jaw. It was just incredible and it’s still unreal,”
Tousignant says. “I’m just very happy for the 14-year-old me who truly
believed in herself and never gave up on her dream.”
By competing at the 2023 World Para Hockey Championship in Moose Jaw, Sask.,
Tousignant hopes she will inspire further growth in the women’s game.
“Women deserve to be at the Paralympic Games, deserve to have their own
team, deserve to compete at that level, too,” she says. “I hope that other
little girls [across] Canada or around the world see me and they will say,
‘Hey, I want to be like her,’ because if they want to be like me, that means
they’re going to work super hard and grow our game.”
With this new achievement, Tousignant is closer than ever before to
achieving her Paralympic dream.
“I know what I have to do to be there, I just need to do it and keep being
myself,” she says. “I think it’s possible.”