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How Paul DeRosa's "Shine" Became the Inspirational Theme Song for Canada's 2020 Paralympic Games Athletes

A decade and a half ago, Toronto-born songwriter Paul DeRosa wrote “Shine,” a deeply personal song in honour of his cousin and friend Pat Ferrari, who has lived paralysed from the waist down since the age of two as result of a car crash. Now, as Canada’s Paralympians train for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, that song is bringing inspiration to Team Canada and their families, friends, and fans around the world as their official theme song.

“I grew up watching my cousin's daily struggles," recalled DeRosa recently to the CBC. "I wrote 'Shine' about 15 years ago to express how I feel about him and his life, or anyone living with a disability for that matter. Up until now, the song has never been released."

It was DeRosa’s friend and high-school classmate Jeff Adams, a Canadian Paralympian and six-time wheelchair sports world champion, who encouraged DeRosa to bring the old song to the Canadian Paralympic Committee and see if it could be used in some capacity to help promote the Paralympic Games and Canada’s athletes. When he did, with the song's lyrics and rousing melody, it was obvious to everyone that "Shine" was an ideal fit and had great potential as a rally cry.

"When I heard Paul's song, I thought that it had strong potential to become the official theme song for the coverage of our upcoming Paralympic Games in Tokyo," Martin Richard, the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s executive director of communications, also told the CBC. "There was something about the melody and lyrics that stuck with me for days. Then I added the visual of our Paralympic athletes pouring their heart and soul into their athletic performance to the song. The song gave me instant goosebumps."

With a few tweaks to the original lyrics to better tailor it to the purposes of a Paralympic Games theme song, CBC Music enlisted singer and former Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila, as well as top Canadian session musicians like guitarist Pete Lesperance, to record “Shine.” The result is a soaring rendition that, when paired with footage of Canada's Paralympians, is incredbily empowering and uplifting and encapsulates what the Paralympic Games are all about.

"Reach, yeah reach higher, don't ever stop. Sacrifice, make it count, it's your fight. Light a spark, you're the fire, so bright," Avila sings over building drums, guitar, and strings, leading into a euphoric chorus: "You shine, shine like a star you are. Shine, you know what's in your heart. Chase your dreams, don't give up, you're a star, so shine."

For Ferrari, a former wheelchair basketball competitor himself, it’s a unique pleasure to see the song he inspired in his cousin all those years ago take centre stage, reach national and international audiences, and help others like himself.

"I feel great about it," Ferrari told the CBC. "I love the song, I think it's fantastic. Anything to help the disabled is a great thing."

And now, in addition to the song’s role as the Canadian Paralympic theme song, CBC Music is also including "Shine" in its 2019 Canadian Music Class Challenge, where music classes across the country are encouraged to learn it. The winning class may even have their version played on the CBC Sports broadcast of the 2020 Paralympic Games.

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Michael Raine is the Senior Editor at Canadian Musician. He is also a co-host of the popular Canadian Musician Radio weekly podcast.