Young people with disabilities can try range of sports in new Greater Victoria pilot program

Para-athlete Navarra Houldin takes a practice lap at Colwood’s Royal Bay Secondary School on Jan. 25, 2021. (CTV News)

Young people with disabilities in Greater Victoria will get an opportunity to experience a host of different para-sports in a new pilot program called Para PowerPLAY.

The free 20-week program begins on Feb. 6 and will allow people of varying abilities to try seven different para-sports, such as, para-rowing, various wheelchair sports, and horseback riding.

Para PowerPLAY offers participants, aged 15 to 25, multiple sessions of two to four weeks in each discipline that will allow individuals to learn the skills needed to be successful in the sport at a recreational level.

"The program is designed to be inclusive to people of all abilities to try out different sports and get an introduction on new ways to move their bodies," said Para PowerPLAY and One Ability coordinator Navarra Houldin.

"A lot of people don’t know the options that are out there for them for sports, so this gives them that introduction and also sets up for them to build long-term athletics and recreation."

Houldin says some young people with disabilities may perceive that para-sports are only for people who want to engage in the sports at a high level of athletic ability. They say due to the type of disability, some people may have been excluded from high-level sports.

"That can put people off or create a barrier to those sports," said Houldin.

"Not everybody wants to be so dedicated to a sport that they’ve just been introduced to, so this program is a lot more accessible for that reason."

Houldin says by opening the door for young people to try a number of para-sports, they may learn new skills and develop a sense of community and social building that is commonly associated with able-bodied sports.

The idea for the pilot program was inspired by another PowerPLAY program which provides girls on Vancouver Island options to participate in a variety of sports.

Houldin says the group behind the new para-sports program wanted to use the same model to fill the gap for young people with disabilities and provide introductory programs for a number of para-sports.

"All of these sports have specialized equipment that not everybody has access to, largely due to financial barriers," said Houldin.

"This program provides that equipment for free, so people can just go out and experience recreation."

Houldin adds the Para PowerPLAY program is unique because it offers young people a chance to try a range of para-sports at a recreational level.

"Typically in para-sports, as soon as somebody enters they’re brought to a high (athletic) level very quickly, which doesn’t always foster long term athleticism," said Houldin.

"This (program) is at a recreational level that introduces people to a variety of sports, a variety of body movements and so hopefully it will foster that long-term love of movement."

The Para PowerPLAY pilot program is organized by One Ability, a Greater Victoria organization that facilitates athletic and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and variety of disabilities.

"All of our programs are through our various sports partners, (such as) Athletics Victoria, the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association, Rowing Canada and BC Wheelchair Sports is running quite a few of them," said Houldin.

"The goal of this program is to be as inclusive as possible and though we have a number of people signing up with disabilities, we are also open to able-bodied people," they said. "There’s no limit on what your disability looks like."

Houldin says the Para PowerPLAY pilot program is limited to 15 participants and the interest in the para-sports has been high. They say that more than half of the available spots have already been filled.

To register for the Para PowerPLAY program for para-sports visit the One Ability website.