We're on the second day of our RBC Sports Day road trip
and the snow has blanketed Atlantic Canada's bustling "Hub City."
Winter has apparently announced its arrival but along with my travelling partners from ParticipACTION and True Sport I've found sanctuary inside the impressive Louis J. Robichaud Field House on the campus of the Universite de Moncton.
We've all come here to learn that sport is at its best when it includes everyone.
New Brunswick has the second highest incidence of disability in the country. 17.2 per cent of the people who live in this province have a physical limitation and in most cases deal with mobility concerns or visual impairment. Still, the province is working hard to ensure that the difficulties its disabled citizens encounter in accessing recreational and sporting facilities won't lead to epidemic physical inactivity.
It's been a challenge.
That's why today's group of about a hundred school children is being exposed to the realities of Paralympic style sport and engaging in what are known as "parallel" athletic endeavours. In other words, able-bodied youngsters are trying their luck at sitting volleyball or playing goal ball while wearing blind folds and even tossing Boccia balls while confined to a chair.
Champions like two-time Paralympic gold medallist Adam Lancia are demonstrating how difficult wheelchair basketball can be. Robbi Weldon, a visually impaired Nordic skier and Paralympic cycling gold medallist at the London 2012 Games is aiding kids who are attempting to navigate the indoor track attached to a guide runner.
A 15 year-old named Veronica Coombes from Shediac Cape, NB, is showing off her racing chair to a bunch of enthralled youngsters. Coombes became the first New Brunswick athlete to ever win a medal in wheelchair athletics at the Canada Games. She took home three silvers from Sherbrooke this past summer.
The entire atmosphere in the field house is electric and not a single soul is idle.
No one is left out.
"We know that there are still a lot of barriers that exist," said Courtenay Brennan, who manages PARA NB Sports and Recreation. "Many of those barriers surround mobility and just getting to and from the field of play. We still see too many kids sitting on the sidelines."
To that end PARA NB has developed a provincial adapted equipment loan service which is becoming available to any disabled athlete who shows a desire to compete and has a need for the tools which make it possible.
"A multi-sport wheelchair costs between three and five thousand dollars," Brennan calculated. "It's not like buying a pair of sneakers. There is still a lack of awareness about these kinds of barriers but what is incredible is how much these athletes appreciate the opportunity we can offer them to take part in sport."
Meantime, Lancia is down on the floor helping little kids play a different kind of basketball. Suddenly, this 6' 5" hulk looks just like the other, younger, hoopsters and speaks to the attractiveness of his challenging sport.
"We, by necessity are not an exclusive group in wheelchair basketball," Lancia said. "We include non-disabled athletes in order to bolster our numbers. It helps all aspects of the team concept."
Canada has become a world leader in wheelchair basketball because of the concept of inclusion. The chair becomes an essential part of the game which disabled and able-bodied athletes must adapt to in order to excel. It exposes the reality that this kind of basketball is as demanding if not more difficult than any other.
It's a lesson that these kids are learning by trying a new and different approach to a sport they've always known.
"It levels the playing field," Lancia continued. "Some are learning that you are not hamstrung by the lack of a disability. On the other hand there's a point at which being an able bodied athlete isn't't a functional advantage."
It strikes me that Lancia and the others are making so much sense. All of a sudden I realize that within the confines of this gymnasium the possibilities are endless.
It's not how you play the game that counts but whether or not you are asked to join in and therefore willing to give it a try.
This, in my opinion, can be the greatest benefit of sport if only we allow ourselves to believe it.
Sport is at its best when everyone is welcome to play.
Next we're in Winnipeg
to take part in some speed skating and curling with Olympian Jill Officer
. We'll focus on the importance of good coaching and the instilling of True Sport values.
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We'll celebrate RBC Sports Day in Canada
with more than 1600 events taking place across the country from Canada Olympic Park in Calgary on Saturday, November 30th from 1-6 pm ET.