Accessible sport 'makes for a stronger community' says Sudbury para-athlete

Nicole Yantzi never thought of herself as an athlete, but that changed when she joined the Sudbury Rowing Club's adaptive rowing program.

Rowing is one of several accessible sports programs in Sudbury, including basketball, tennis and soccer

Nicole Yantzi (right) was introduced to the Sudbury Rowing Club's adaptive rowing program by coach Thomas Merrit (left). Yantzi wants to see more inclusive sports in the community. (Nicole Yantzi/Facebook)

Nicole Yantzi never thought of herself as an athlete, but that changed when she joined the Sudbury Rowing Club's adaptive rowing program.

Yantzi, a professor at Laurentian University, learned about the program through fellow professor and rowing coach Thomas Merritt.

"I said, "I'll try it, but I'm not really sure how this is going to go,"' she remembers. "But I loved it. I loved it because I was out on the water."

Yantzi uses a walker due to arthritis and a condition that causes weakness in her core muscles. Through rowing, she's been able to build her strength and learn new skills.

"I look for when the ice is gone and we can start some dry land practice," she says. "And when we can get on the water it's, like, so joyous."

People with disabilities face barriers

Rowing is just one of several accessible sports programs in Sudbury, including basketball, tennis and soccer.

But there are still barriers for people with disabilities who want to be active. That's according the Patti Kitler, the coach for the Laurentian Para-Nordic Ski program.

"If we look at transportation — super hard. I pick up so many people," Kitler says.

Kitler, who also sits on the Sudbury Accessible Sports Council, finds that a lot of people don't know these programs are even available.

She wants to see physical activity become more normalized for people with disabilities.

"Everyone with a disability should be playing sports, not sitting on the sidelines."

Members of the Laurentian Para-Nordic Ski Program participated in the Ontario Cup race at the Walden Cross Country Fitness Club in January. (Jessica McShane)

For her part, Yantzi would like to see more inclusive activities offered in the community, like the adaptive rowing program.

"We need more venues like that, where all people, regardless of abilities, can play, have recreation, leisure together," she says.

"It makes for a stronger community."