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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Food for thought a story by Imogen Reed

Canadian Event Raises Vital Awareness for Wheelchair Curling

With the forthcoming London Olympics and Paralympics 2012 getting tantalisingly close, it is an important time for wheelchair curling. In a matter of a few months, the sport will be broadcast to many millions of people across the globe and awareness will dramatically increase, along with that of many other Paralympic sports.

In the run up to this hugely important event, there is one country that is making headlines for wheelchair curling. Later this month, there will be an event in a town called Langley in Canada that will be held to honour the great achievements of pioneering wheelchair trekker, Rick Hansen. As many people are already aware, Rick Hansen was paralysed from the waist down when he was involved in a serious car accident at just 15 years of age. In 1985, the then 27 year old Hansen decided to take on a remarkable challenge; he set off on a 26 month long trek in just his wheelchair. His challenged was called Man in Motion and saw his amazing marathon spread across 40,000 kilometres through 34 countries and over four continents – the sort of distance you'd not even cover if you went on a trip to the far east or if you ship a parcel to China. However, Hansen did the trip entirely by wheelchair, taking him just under two years to complete.

Colossal achievements

By the time the British Columbia resident had returned back home to his native town of Vancouver, he had raised more than $26 million (£10 million) for spinal cord injury research. This is a huge amount of money in any sense, but in the eighties it was colossal. Rick Hansen’s contributions have since increased further; the Rick Hansen Foundation was then created and has raised more than $250 million (approximately £100 million) for the cause.

To mark the honour of Rick Hansen’s achievements in fundraising, the township of Langley is hosting an event on May 19th that is expected to attract crowds from all over the country, to coincide with the cross-Canada relay, a commemorative event that is attended by 7,000 participants (nicknamed the Many in Motion).

Wheelchair curling for the masses

What is particularly special about the event, however, is that it will be hosting a free “Active Expo” event. This will give visitors the opportunity to try out a range of wheelchair sports for themselves – including wheelchair curling. As the Paralympics approach, ready to be watched on such a large world stage, this kind of awareness is extremely valuable to our sport. Langley’s Active Expo should set an example for countries all over the world that are competing in sports such as wheelchair curling in the Paralympics. The Games have come such a long way in recent years in terms of recognition and stars such as Aileen Neilson – who is also a 40 year old school teacher – have done their countries proud at recent Games, raising invaluable awareness of the sport due to their individual success.

Teaching the public

The Active Expo event will be attended by many of wheelchair curling’s (and other wheelchair sports’) sports men and women, who will be teaching the general public all about the sport. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn the rules of the game and how it became an international sport. They will then be invited to have a go themselves, competing against each other for fun.

The Township’s community recreation programmer, Stephanie Eby, said of the Langley event: “The goal of the event is to give people of all ages a chance to have fun while they wait for the relay to arrive, to learn about what life is like for those with disabilities, and more importantly, give them a chance to learn about the many accessible activities and services that exist in our community,”

“Being able to experience their challenges and their accomplishments encourages understanding and will enhance the importance of what is being celebrated on this day.”

Great example

Also at the Active Expo event, there will be a presentation from para-skier, Rob Gosse, who will give visitors an idea of what it is like living with a disability – not just about coping, but about excelling through activities such as sport.

Langley is setting a great example for other towns and countries that, as the most important sporting event approaches, should be doing all they can to support and build awareness and popularity for sports such as wheelchair curling. More events like these will help contribute to a prosperous and opportunistic future for what is an exciting and talent-filled sport.

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