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Canadian universities need to have more support for Para athletes, says Paralympic Athletes Council presidentOUS News

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There is a fine line between making an inclusion to an inclusion and acting on it.

That’s the conviction of Erica Gavel, a Paralympic athlete and the new president of the Canadian Paralympic Athletes’ Committee. In particular, he is concerned that true inclusion for Para athletes is not happening at the university level in Canada.

“I feel as Canadians we’re really proud of ourselves,” said Gavel, who first competed as a basketball player at the University of Saskatchewan, and after seriously damaging his knee, as a Paralympian. “But in order for a Para athlete to actually participate in a Para-athlete program they either need to go to America or they need to go overseas to the UK.”

What does inclusion at the university level look like Gavel? It starts with something as seemingly innocuous as a post on a website. Or a welcome note to disabled athletes on campus that explains how to access some level of athletic support that at least approximates that available to able-bodied brethren.

What’s missing in many universities in Canada, he said, is a true student-athlete experience for Para athletes. He said they need a professional learning environment and a fair competitive process among university conferences. And at least in some Para sports, you need to be official sports champions.

For Gavel, a 31-year-old native of Prince Albert, Sask., it’s been a rocky road of discovery. Gavel’s world changed during a long weekend in August 2012 when, as a starting point guard for the University of Saskatchewan women’s basketball team, she took the ball off a fly pass during a two-on-two practice and tore her cartilage. off the femur and tibia of his left knee.

The USA scholarship has arrived

Gavel went from being an elite player coming out of high school, to a spot on a college women’s team, to being told she would never play high-level sports again.

And then a glimmer of hope. Four months after the injury he was named to Canada’s Paralympic basketball team. He went to the University of Alabama for a development camp with the national team, and while he got a sports scholarship for Para sports basketball at school for the fourth year of home studies – higher education.

In 2016 he was a Paralympian playing basketball for Canada in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s been the most amazing, hard, fun year of my entire life,” he said, noting that his experiences on the fitness and Para sports teams have equipped him for his new role as Board chair. running Man.

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According to Gavel, Canadian universities need to make it a priority to provide Para athletes with better access to facilities, sports technology, therapy, training, facilities and coaches for support. academic. And he said those services need to be customized programs based on athletes’ training schedules.

“When I came over [University of Saskatchewan basketball team]it was the most amazing experience of my life,” said Gavel. “If I had had a disability earlier in my career I would not have had that experience.”

Universities in Canada do not have to provide training opportunities for Para athletes. According to Matthew Davies, chief operating officer for Ontario University Athletics, the OUA provides experiences and opportunities to Para athletes at OUA championships in four sports: track and field, swimming , skiing, and Nordic skiing. There are no university championships for these sports, and the number of people competing in the events varies from year to year.

“And we will continue to listen to members by exploring future opportunities as they present themselves,” Davies said.

But those opportunities don’t compare to what Gavel has experienced, both as a professional basketball player and during his years as a Para athlete under full scholarship.

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Gavel said he had to push to get the support he needed in Canada, going to the athletic director and making a case for some kind of accommodation, access to fitness, strength and conditioning, and the gym.

Gavel suggests his experience helps advocate for jobs as a Para athlete, but that many other Para athletes take the position. He said it’s not so much a reluctance to advocate for themselves as it is a lack of understanding of the extra steps needed to access proper care as an athlete.

“Given that resources are not regularly posted, system navigation can be a very dangerous process,” he said.

Student athletes who feel they don’t have good support often have to choose between school and sports. Gavel said the decision was compounded by the challenges people with disabilities face in trying to find a job after graduation.

Many universities protect their Para athletic programs, however.

Shawn Burt, director of the department of sports and recreation at McMaster University in Hamilton, said that the university is a place of being “very supportive” of training and other support opportunities for Para athletes, both at the popular and sports levels. That includes access to the school’s Pulse Fitness Center, which has equipment designed to accommodate members with disabilities, and access for students with disabilities who want to participate in intramurals. .

Universities say there is support

“Para athletes have access to McMaster’s facilities and services,” Burt said. “In some cases, national athletes [able-bodied or Para] can receive funding from their national sports organization to access physiotherapy, strength and conditioning services, sports science, and/or professional training courses, etc. to ensure that athletes are supported well while pursuing university studies. We have supported elite Para athletes in their training endeavors in the past and will continue to do so. “

A spokesperson from the University of Toronto said that students who are Para-athletes are given the same supports as all other student-athletes at the university, regardless of whether they are on one of the 43 Varsity Blues athletic teams or pursuing an outside intercollegiate sport. line up.

In addition, U of T’s high performance mandate provides local and national athletes and Para athletes with access to strength and conditioning programs and coaches, training materials, sports medicine and assistance including academic support within the university. Programs and services are available to all high performance athletes at U of T who pay student tuition fees.

A man wears a Canadian flag on his shoulders.
Canada’s Jeremy Hall walks to the medal ceremony after finishing second in the PR2 men’s singles final on Day 6 of the 2019 world rowing championships on August 30, 2019 in Linz, Austria. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)


Gavel also saw a gap in the sports system, including a lack of understanding of Para sports from a professional perspective. Lack of space and budget constraints are the excuses he says he hears most in the conversations he has had with many Canadian universities. He said support programs need to go beyond providing space for intramurals or telling someone that sports season is open.

“Part of my student fees includes paying for the sports program,” he said. “So you’re telling me you have practice time and individual skill time for all those college teams but you can’t get practice sports programs?”

In the US, the board of directors for the Pac-12 Conference recently approved a new policy to support student athletes who train to compete in the Paralympic Games or other Para athletic competitions. That includes access to athletic department facilities, services, training and other supports to continue their education. It is the first policy developed by the Pac-12 Student-Athletics Association as it pushes for a commitment to equity and inclusion.

Jeremy Hall is a Canadian Paralympian in rowing, and a graduate of the University of Alberta, who serves as vice-chairman of the Athletics Council. A competitor in the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, Hall said it also makes it important to get more disabled athletes to push for more equal treatment at the university level.

Hall remembers that he needed to hire the Edmonton Rowing Club to allow him, as a Para rower, to be on the water with the club.

“People can hear the word disability or disability and they’re like, no we can’t do it, and then they turn the athlete away, and the athlete loses,” he said. “So I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not having a dedicated community. It would do wonders for Paralympic sport in Canada if we had programs at the university level where you could develop a path. “