MELFORT, NIPAWIN — Melfort product Julie Kozun played a big role for Canada’s women’s sitting volleyball team at this past summer’s Paralympic Games.
At her first Paralympics, the daughter of Lynne Hanson and Randy Kozun helped Canada finish fourth in Tokyo. The team had entered the event ranked fifth in the world.
“Julie took on a much larger role than previous competitions at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics,” said Nicole Ban, the head coach of the Canadian women’s sitting volleyball team. “She played in all six rotations and served/received for the first time. Julie was up for the challenge and showed huge growth throughout the event. Julie is a natural athlete and although still young amongst the team, has the natural ability to lead. She is an asset to this program and an essential part of our growth through this next quad.”
A 21-year-old University of Saskatchewan agribusiness student now living in Nipawin, Kozun was the youngest member of her squad. She enjoyed the competition at her first Paralympics.
“This was my biggest competition I’ve competed in and I felt I’ve had one of my best performances at these Games,” Kozun said. “There’s still a lot of room for growth and things I can work on to continue my growth. The fast pace of sitting volleyball and the level of pressure was something I liked to embrace and continue to improve.
Ban would not be shocked to hear Kozun stated she enjoys competing.
“The strength of Julie’s game is that she is a fierce competitor who has a ‘next ball mentality’ while playing, meaning that she learns from what happened previously but is always forward thinking and trying to win the next point for our team,” the Team Canada head coach said. “Julie is a strong server as well as attacker and moves very well on the court.”
Off the court, Kozun enjoyed the atmosphere of the Tokyo Olympic Village.
“I loved seeing all the different athletes from all over the world,” she said. “In the Olympics, all the bodies look the same, but in the Paralympics everyone’s body is completely different.”
In order to be safe before the competition, most of Team Canada opted out of the Paralympic opening ceremonies. However, Kozun and her teammates did participate in the closing ceremonies.
“The closing ceremony was very entertaining,” she said. “Lots of lights, colours, costumes and performers. Team Canada even started a wave throughout the arena.”
Due to the COVD-19 pandemic, athletes were not able to sightsee outside the Olympic Village. However, Kozun enjoyed her time in Japan and plans to return someday.
“Japan is an amazing country,” she said. “The people are so generous and kind. Their culture is very respectful and beautiful. I was always greeted with smiling faces, double hand waves, or a round of applause.”
Closer to home, Kozun was proudly cheered on by her family.
“My parents were and are very, very proud,” she said “My mom had the whole town of Melfort putting up signs for me and my dad made sure to watch every game even while working shift work. They texted me a lot and made sure to tell me how great I was playing and how proud they were.”
Between her Grade 10 and 11 years, Kozun was in a lawn mower accident. The result was the loss of her left leg below the knee. After the accident the then Melfort and Unit Comprehensive Collegiate student returned to play standing volleyball as well as learning the sitting version of the sport. Kozun is now a rising star in the latter.
“I train full time in sitting volleyball because it is a lot different than standing,” she said. “Sitting volleyball is very fast. The ball doesn’t stay in the air as long as it does in standing. The movement is probably the hardest skill to transition too. Flexibility is your friend.
“The thing I love most about sitting volleyball is I get to use my body how it is. I don’t need any other equipment to play, like a wheelchair or even my prosthetic. Each sitting volleyball player uses their body in different ways depending on what they have – either a below the knee amputation, above knee amputation, double amputation, and arm amputations.”