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Reimagining the perception of a parasport athlete

Queen’s University-led project works to expand opportunities for adaptive sports across Canada

PowerHockey Canada athletes compete in recent tournament. Photo courtesy of PowerHockey Canada
Members of Canada's PowerHockey Team. (Photo Courtesy PowerHockey Canada) 

With the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games now underway, a leading researcher from Queen’s says it is time to reimagine what we think of an athlete, and to create opportunities for athletes of all body types and skill levels.

Amy Latimer-Cheung (Kinesiology and Health Studies) is leading a multi-year research project funded by Mitacs, examining inclusivity in sport. The goal is to build a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for Canadian parasport athletes.

“As Canadians, we have an image of what an athlete should look like and how they should move,” says Dr. Latimer-Cheung, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion and Disability. “Often, someone living with a high level of disability doesn’t fit this mold. As a result, opportunities, and spotlight, like the Paralympics pass over them.”

Dr. Latimer-Cheung believes one of the reasons for the lack of inclusivity is there are fewer opportunities for athletes with a high level of disability to participate.

“Many of the sports showcased in the Paralympics, currently, just aren’t suitable for athletes with certain disabilities,” she says.

The research effort will engage seven Mitacs research interns from Queen’s University and Western University in multiple projects over the next two years — and involves interviewing individuals living with disability, including Paralympians themselves, to better identify solutions to create opportunity for participation.

The research team is also partnering with the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Ontario Parasport Collective, PowerHockey Canada and other stakeholders to close the gaps in community-based sport programming for athletes with disability.

“Mitacs-funded research aims to change the landscape,” Dr. Latimer-Cheung says. “We are striving to increase the number of opportunities in diverse communities and the quality of these opportunities for athletes with lived experience of disability.”

One area that is particularly under-represented in Canada is powerchair sport. Jordan Herbison, Mitacs intern and postdoctoral research fellow at Queen’s and McGill University, is working with PowerHockey Canada and community partners to build a more inclusive and high-quality powerchair program in Canada, starting with Ontario. His research, including interviews with and survey of athletes and sport administrators, will form the basis for an inclusive “playbook” aimed at giving community program providers the tools and knowledge they need to create more opportunities for people who use powerchairs, and to ensure a positive experience.

“I believe in the power of sport to positively impact people’s lives and that everyone who wants to, should have the opportunity to experience the benefits of sport,” says Dr. Herbison.

Tokyo Paralympics
The 2020 Paralympic Games are being held Aug. 24-Sept. 5, 2021 and features 128 Canadian athletes.

Another project, led by Mitacs intern and Queen’s  Master’s student Alyssa Grimes, is aiming to develop standardized training that any sport organization can use to attract and retain new volunteers, since many parasport programs rely on volunteers to run.

“We know lack of available volunteers is a major barrier to program access,” Dr. Latimer-Cheung says. “If we can help to create a high-quality volunteer experience, the hope is they will be more engaged and it will ignite a passion to continue to support parasport longer term.”

For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.