Ready, willing & able

Students gather for paralympic sport awareness

Stefanie Reid of Paralympics Ontario throws up a jump ball during wheelchair basketball.
Stefanie Reid of Paralympics Ontario throws up a jump ball during wheelchair basketball.
Bocce ball was a featured event at Ready, Willing and Able.
Bocce ball was a featured event at Ready, Willing and Able.

The gym was the same, the balls were no different, but the rules were slightly altered: it was two pushes—not two steps—after picking up a dribble.

The rule change happened yesterday afternoon in Ross Gym, as Paralympics Ontario and Accessibility Queen’s collaborated to host a session called “Ready, Willing and Able” to raise awareness about Paralympic sports and activities.

It marked the second year that Queen’s has hosted one of the sessions, which began in Toronto in the summer of 2004. They now take place across Ontario, although they are still focused primarily on Toronto and Ottawa.

“The main thing is increasing awareness among people with various disabilities,” said Wai-may Wong, ArtSci ’07 and the event’s organizer from Accessibility Queen’s.

Alison McCordick, ArtSci ’06 and the chair of the committee, said the session was just one of a number of initiatives they are engaged in.

“[Accessibility Queen’s] has a mandatory student fee, and we use it to fund capital projects and awareness across campus,” she said.

The event was hosted by Stefanie Reid, ArtSci ’06 and a representative of Paralympics Ontario. About 12 people participated, most of whom did not have disabilities.

Once everyone was settled in their chairs, they played a game of British bulldog to get familiar with the capabilities of our new mode of conveyance. Following that was a relay event in which two continuously moving lines of people passed the ball back and forth from one end of the gym to the other. Having honed their skills, they then moved on to wheelchair basketball.

And make no mistake, it is much more difficult than traditional basketball. Everyone present seemed quick to pick up on the basics of controlling the chair, but it is quite another thing when a ball is introduced into the equation.

The next event, bocce ball, provided a rest. The game is suitable for people with a wide range of physical disabilities due to its high skill requirements but low degree of physical exertion.

The afternoon finished with what was perhaps the toughest sport of all: goalball. It’s a sport for the blind and visually impaired which requires players to have well-attuned hearing and to be quick on their feet.

Teams line up on opposite sides of the gym, and were blindfolded to ensure that everyone is working with the same degree of visual hindrance. A ball about the size of a basketball containing bells is rolled from one side of the gym to the other. The opposing team has to use their hearing to locate the ball and stop it from crossing their goal line. In professional settings, there are strips of tape of varying thickness and texture on the court by which players can orient themselves, and ball speeds can exceed 60 miles per hour.

“It hurts a lot if you get one in the face,” Reid said, laughing.

Reid agreed with Wong that the most important part of the event was to raise awareness about the possibilities that exist for those with disabilities to engage in sport. Reid is a below-the-knee amputee and heavily involved in athletics.

“I didn’t know anything about Paralympic sports before I had my accident,” she said. “I joined the national Paralympics team as a sprinter. I run the 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres and long jump. I also run the 60 metres and 300 metres for the varsity track team.”

She added Paralympic sport has received more exposure of late thanks to Canada’s successful bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Paralympics will be held shortly afterward.

Wong and McCormick said they were pleased with the way the session turned out.

“We were originally hoping for a bigger turnout, but we’re glad that everyone got to participate so much and had plenty of time to talk to the Paralympics Ontario ambassador,” McCormick said.

The task of spreading awareness in the Kingston community doesn’t stop between now and next year’s event, though. Reid said she works continually on behalf of Paralympics Ontario to get the word out.

“I go to various hospitals, schools, anywhere we can get an audience,” she said.

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