Guest Blog: Tune in to the Winter Paralympics, Starting March 8

“As a lifelong athlete I am always looking to try new sports but sometimes it’s not feasible with my function as a quadriplegic (limited hand and core function) so I was hesitant to try out sledge hockey. After working with the instructor and some equipment modifications to help with stability and grip, I was able to participate fully in the program which was a fun and challenging experience. I was able to develop skills and challenge my body in a way that I don’t get through daily living which helped build strength and mobility.” -Karen March, Sledge Hockey Participant

The Paralympic Movement first began in 1948 after World War II with a small group of British veterans, but has now grown to become a household name with thousands of athletes across 100 countries. The word Para is derived from the greek preposition meaning ‘beside’ or ‘alongside’ and today it refers to the competition being organized in parallel to the Olympic Games. After Canada’s successful performance at this years Olympic games, the Paralympic Games should prove to be an exciting event to watch, and even features several athletes from BC!

In Paralympic sport, athletes must have one or more eligible impairments which include: impaired muscle power, impaired passive ROM, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short statue, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment and intellectual impairment. The athlete is then further assessed on functional and technical components and how it impacts them into the sport, known as classification which maintains a fair playing field and will vary from sport to sport.

Although the Paralympic Games are the pinnacle of para sport, many Canadians still know very little about adapted sport. They are often surprised to learn that the athletes train as hard as their able-bodied counterparts, that there is a large funding gap between Olympic and Paralympic athletes and resources such as accessible training facilities, specialized equipment and knowledgeable coaches and support staff are few and far between. Grassroots disability sport organizations often heavily rely on charitable funding and volunteerism to provide program opportunities and therefore have challenges with capacity and providing consistent programming and support to individuals with disability.

To help facilitate inclusive programming in Greater Victoria and contribute to para sport systems in Canada, key leaders in para sport came together to form OneAbility in 2015. OneAbility is a collective impact group focused on improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families through inclusive sport and recreation through partner collaborations. By bringing together organizations with different types of expertise related to disability sport and sharing resources OneAbility can make an larger impact on both a local, region and national level.

OneAbility is a grateful recipient of funding from The Victoria Foundation this year which will allow them to continue their important work in the community by providing meaningful opportunities for individuals with disabilities to get active as well as building awareness around inclusive recreation by providing education and training opportunities. A large component of OneAbility’s current project is pulling together a comprehensive inventory of inclusive programming in the area and identifying gaps and partnership opportunities to help address these gaps. One of OneAbility’s first projects helped a successful program get started through the collaboration of existing partners.

Victoria is known for its accessibility and temperate climate that make it a desirable destination for persons with disabilities. There is a good selection of inclusive recreation and sport programs for people to take part in and is also a hub for many Paralympic sports. However, it was still lacking winter-sport activities, and more specifically a sledge hockey program. Sledge Hockey started as an idea in 2015 from a local who recently acquired a spinal cord injury, putting a call out to local organizations to take on the program. OneAbility was just starting to come together and sledge hockey provided a great opportunity to bring together existing partners to share resources to create a new program. Many factors are at play to run a successful para sport program and there were many barriers to starting sledge hockey  – luckily we had amazing partners, funders and volunteers who made this dream a reality.

Sport equipment is expensive, and even more so in para sport due to the specialized nature of the designs and limited options for manufacturers. Thanks to a partnership with BC Hockey, we were able to acquire enough sledges, sticks and protective equipment to start the sledge hockey program and focus any initial funding on training coaches and instructors and subsidizing costs to our participants. More recently funding has been used to acquire youth sized equipment as well as adapted pieces such as anti-tippers and high backs, so everyone can participate in the program, regardless of age or ability.

Ice time is not an easy thing to come by (or inexpensive), and it is even more challenging when the facility needs to be accessible. Westshore Parks and Recreation has been committed to this program from the start, providing recreation staff to help run the program, taking care of registration and insurance, as well as finding prime ice time to ensure the success of the program. What started as a 2:30pm slot on a Monday, has now moved to 4pm on a Saturday which has been a major reason for the increase in numbers this year.

As mentioned early, finding instructors and coaches well-versed in para sport is fairly difficult, especially when the position is volunteer-based. At the time, there were no experienced instructors in Victoria. SportAbility, the Provincial Sport Organization (PSO) for sledge hockey in BC, provided us with vast support including training and providing mentorship to our coordinator and instructors to ensure quality programming while fostering a safe and inclusive environment.

In order to start a new pilot project with no initial funding and turn it into a successful program, it requires a lot of ground work, volunteer time and passion. The greatest power of OneAbility is it’s ability to pull together key partners to collaborate on ideas and projects and provide capacity and resources to turn an idea into reality. Fortunately, Victoria Wheelchair Sports added sledge hockey to their program list providing support for coordination, instruction, as well as securing funding to ensure the viability of the program.

In addition to all the above-mentioned barriers, program success also depends on participation numbers. In Canada, we have a relatively low disability rate (due to improved healthcare, limited involvement in global crisis, strict standards and laws) and our population is quite dispersed, which often means that the participation rates of disability programs are low and don’t meet minimum participation  requirements. These programs then rely on additional funding to subsidize rates to be accessible for individuals with a disability who are at higher risk for a low income (Stats Canada). Reverse Integration is a concept where able-bodied athletes participate with athletes with a disability in para sports and if common in Canada in para sports such as wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey. Although controversial to some, Reverse Integration promotes inclusion, brings awareness to adapted sport,  increases participation numbers which improves success rates in programs, creates demand for more programs, provides more competition opportunities as well contributes to other benefits in the community. The sledge hockey program in Victoria currently has participants with or without a disability, from youth to older adult, from recreational to competitive, and has provided many benefits to it’s participants and the community.

In Canada, Ice Hockey is embedded into our culture. Even for those Canadians who don’t follow the NHL, by the time the Winter Olympics come around, hockey is the most anticipated event of the games. We’re hoping that one day, Para Ice Hockey (or more commonly referred to as Sledge Hockey) at the Paralympics will be part of that same culture. Para Ice Hockey is a sport that was first developed in the 1960s as an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to play hockey. Using sledges made up a metal frame with two skate blades and 2 sticks with picks on the ends, participants can propel themselves across the ice, change directions, stop and pass and shoot. It’s fast, exciting, and a great way for the whole family to stay active!

Tune in to the Paralympics starting March 8th and cheer our Canadian Para Ice Hockey team to the podium, or try it for yourself on Saturdays from 4-5pm until the end of March at the JDF Arena in Colwood, BC. Check out all the opportunities to get involved in sledge hockey in BC on the SportAbility Website:

To learn more about OneAbility and the work they are doing, or to get involved, check out their website:

˜ Sarah Black is with OneAbility in Victoria.

“It was just over a year ago that I answered an email seeking a volunteer to assist with a local sledge hockey program. One year later the program is blossoming, and I’ve been able to meet some amazing people and experience a whole new world of sport. Thanks to the generosity of community donors and partners, our participants have been able to engage in a totally new endeavour that has had a very positive impact on many of them. I’m looking forward to the next year and to see how much we can continue to grow sledge hockey in Victoria.” -Darcy Poitras, Sledge Hockey Coach