Paralympians past, present and future will always have a home in Whistler after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Jan. 29 between the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) and Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies. The result is close to 100 accessible beds in the Cheakamus Crossing athletes village neighbourhood, and office space in the athletes' centre.
From the start WASP's goal has been to create a Whistler equivalent to the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado, and the MOU makes that possible.
"It's been a long journey," said Sian Blythe, the former executive director of WASP and current president of the Disabled Skiers Association of B.C. "Seven years ago this was our vision and dream, and now it's a reality. From the start the vision has been to create a centre of excellence for people with disabilities to enjoy all that Whistler has to offer."
When Blythe and other WASP founders first met to discuss the possibility the bid process to host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was just getting underway. At the time WASP's collection of adaptive ski gear was stored in an underground locker, and the group was putting on roughly 50 adaptive ski lessons a year.
Now, WASP has a facility at Olympic Station on Whistler Mountain, and teaches thousands of on-hill lessons a year with more than 85 ski and snowboard instructors. They have also expanded from the slopes into adaptive Nordic skiing, adaptive kayaking, and other year-round activities with the assistance of 60 more volunteers.
Currently a handful of active adaptive athletes call Whistler home. Tyler Mosher is a candidate to race cross-country in the 2010 Paralympics, and is also hoping to be the first Canadian to win a para-snowboarding medal in 2014, if the sport is accepted by the International Paralympic Committee. On the alpine skiing side, there is Matt Hallat, Arly Fogarty and Matthew Perrin, all of whom compete in the standing category. Fogarty and Perrin moved to Whistler recently to be closer to the Paralympic venue.
Whistler is also host to a number of athletes from the Lower Mainland who are on the national, development and provincial para-alpine teams, as well as the home base of the B.C. Para-Alpine Ski Team. Several para-nordic athletes have also expressed an interest in living here in the future.
Given Whistler's high cost of living and the lack of affordable rental housing, the MOU with Whistler 2010 Sport Legacies (W2010SL) addresses the most serious obstacle for disabled athletes moving to Whistler - finding a place to live.
"The biggest issue is finding accessible housing, which in Whistler at this point in time is quite difficult," said Chelsey Walker, the current executive director of WASP. "That's where the legacy model and agreement with Whistler 2010 Sports Legacies comes through, not only do we have short-term housing available for athletes, we also have mid-term housing so an athlete can move here for the season.
"We also have an agreement with the WHA (Whistler Housing Authority) to integrate some accessible housing into their inventory at the athletes village to give us more long-term rental housing, and accommodation for purchase."
Through the agreement with W2010SL, WASP and other national and provincial sports organizations will have access to up to 100 beds, including 40 temporary beds in the athlete dorm being constructed beside the athlete centre, and up to another 60 beds in accessible townhouse units.
For events like the B.C. Para Alpine Championships, Walker says its likely that all 100 beds will be booked out. It also opens the possibility of hosting more events in the future.
"If we want to host national teams for a loppet we can do that, and the World Cups are paving the way for us to host large events, or events like the special Olympic world championships," said Walker. "The potential for hosting events and increasing tourism is huge."
The dorm beds are intended for athletes in town for shorter periods of time, such as competitions and training camps. The townhouse beds are for athletes that move here for the winter, or live in Whistler year-round. WASP and Whistler 2010 Sports Legacies will establish the criteria for athletes staying at Cheakamus Crossing.
Under the MOU, WASP will also have a new office in the high performance training centre at Cheakamus Crossing, saving money they currently spend to rent their current offices.
The high performance gym being built in the athletes' centre will be fully accessible, and includes a weight room, cardio equipment, and other rooms that can be used by visiting teams for physiotherapy, massage and other treatments. Other amenities planned for the surrounding area include an outdoor track and sports fields.