On August 29th the London 2012 Paralympic Games opened and we are all excited to cheer on our 145 Canadian athletes competing. I read an article about Canada’s need to recruit more Paralympic athletes to keep reaching the podium. While a larger pool of athletes will make us more competitive, it was this comment in the article that struck a chord with me. “What I’ve noticed in wheelchair sport is the improvement of everybody’s everyday life skills,” he explained. “We have guys coming into our sport that have trouble transferring to chairs, getting in the bathtub and they just learn tricks of the trade from the other guys, things to make life easier. I’ve seen their lifestyles improve tremendously over the years.”
Ben Tumack met Danielle Peers for the first time on a warm summer morning in July 2005 at a sport camp for children with disabilities. Ben had only received his first wheelchair a few weeks prior. At that time Danielle was in full training mode preparing for the World Championships following a bronze medal performance in Athens in 2004, and was preparing to move to France for a year to play wheelchair basketball professionally with a French Men’s team. What Danielle did that morning was to mentor a young aspiring athlete to find a way to:
1. Be active in a way that HE could be active
2. Be part of a team – something he had always desperately wanted
3. Create friendships that will last a lifetime
4. Find confidence in the things he CAN do and improve
5. Keep on dreaming!
As a parent, I have seen the positive affects of being involved with the wheelchair basketball community in particular these past seven years not just for Ben, but for our whole family. In Canada, ALL are welcome to play wheelchair basketball and because of that the community is tight and inclusive and caring. Siblings, parents and friends of athletes with a disability are teammates, so teammates instinctively understand the unique things that make each person a strength to the team. The able-bodied players (the AB’s) are valued, but no more than those with less physical function because ALL are needed to make the best strategy to win. And even if an individual’s strength lies nowhere near the basketball court it is valued – perhaps an individual’s strength is to welcome all, to show the value of a friend, or to cheer everyone else on. Not necessarily physical in nature at all, but no less important.
As new physical challenges present themselves through declining health, or through injury or scheduled surgery related to disability, a strong group of people are there to support the athlete and the family through this tough time – and on the other side, to cheer and applaud when the positive and amazing things happen in life. Some of our best friends are the athletes, officials, and parents-of-athletes we have met through a sporting community – a place to belong…a family.
Terri Tumack began work as Alberta’s Fundraising and Community Development Coordinator in late 2009. She has been an active volunteer with Muscular Dystrophy Canada since 1998 when her son Ben was first diagnosed with a non-specific neuromuscular disorder. Working to build the Muscular Dystrophy Canada community in Edmonton, and later across Alberta as Chapter Advisor, has been her passion since the early days of her involvement with the organization.