Adaptive athletes get active 

Spinal Cord Injury BC brings contingent to Whistler

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MAYA PANKALLA - WHEEL FUN Spinal Cord Injury BC's guests prepare for adaptive mountain biking along the Lost Lake Trails.
  • Photo by Maya Pankalla
  • WHEEL FUN Spinal Cord Injury BC's guests prepare for adaptive mountain biking along the Lost Lake Trails.

Enjoying a new sport for the first time can be a magical experience.

But for a special group of Vancouverites, a recent trip to Whistler had a little bit of additional joy.

Roughly 25 people with spinal-cord injuries and other physical challenges came to the resort for the weekend of Aug. 13 and 14 to try new sports as part of a Spinal Cord Injury B.C. initiative.

Vancouver resident Jana Husseini, who is originally from Lebanon, tried adaptive kayaking on Alta Lake on the weekend's first day and later gave hand-cycling a go.

"Today was so much fun for me. This was the first time I kayaked, so it was so much fun," said Husseini, who had skied in the past. "I can do it and I didn't find any difficulty going into the water. It was so accessible for me. I feel like I'm included.

"I'm going to do it again and again and again."

Spinal Cord Injury B.C. communications lead Maya Pankalla said it's the fourth time the organization has put the weekend together in partnership with Whistler Adaptive Sports Program with major support from the Community Foundation of Whistler.

"If there's a sport out there and people are interested in doing it, our job is to help them find out how to do it," said Pankalla, adding they've helped the athletes do bungee jumping, ziplining and plane gliding.

This year, the new addition to the roster was adaptive mountain biking, where riders cruised the terrain around Lost Lake.

"It looks like a hand-cycle but with two wheels in the front and one in the back," she explained. "It allows you to go down slopes and over terrain just like a mountain bike would.

"The difference is that the new one they were showing us this year has a little bit of electric assist so we were able to get up those hills a little bit faster."

In the past, the weekend has included participants from as far away as Prince George and Kelowna.

Pankalla also highlighted the diversity of participants, as men and women, older and younger athletes, those for whom English is not a first language, those with differing abilities and those with different levels of athletic experience were all represented.

One of the latter is Maple Ridge's Kevin Priebe, a competitive sit-skier and kayaker who attempted to qualify for the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Brazil. He appreciated the opportunity to take a couple steps back and enjoy sport for sport's sake.

"I've been training with Team Canada the past few years. We were all prepping for Rio and we sent two athletes down there," said Priebe, who was injured in an accident about two decades ago. "I'm used to training high performance and to get out and have fun with everyone; it's a nice opportunity.

"A lot of times, with a disability, you're focused so much on trying to be active and breaking through those barriers."

Pankalla said Priebe got the chance to try adaptive mountain biking for the first time and was amazed. She noted one of the most rewarding aspects of the weekend is continuing to help open the eyes of people who have thought they've already reached their limits.

"Even people who live with disabilities their whole lives are exposed to things they thought they would never be able to do — adaptive hiking or mountain biking, which they thought just wasn't for them," she said.

Coquitlam's Muj Saloojee, meanwhile, enjoyed not only the athletic elements of the day, but the social part of it as well.

"It means a lot to me. I love going out and meeting people. It's always great to meet new people because you always learn something," he said.

Saloojee was splashing back and forth with his younger brother and care worker. Asked whether he had the chance to retaliate, he had to correct an assumption.

"No, no. They got me back. I started it," he said.

Pankalla noted one participant hopes to bring in family members from Montreal to take part in the weekend next summer, and while it's difficult to add many more people, she hopes to see some new faces.

Saloojee was grateful for the chance to come up and hopes to return again in the future.

"I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to experience this. I hope there's more and I hope more people come next time," he said.



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