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Adaptive sports program gains ScotiaBank sponsorship

New funding to improve WASP administration and fund snowboard program

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The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program – formerly the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program – couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding weekend.

On Saturday, Scotiabank presented a cheque for $60,000 to the organization, the first instalment in an ongoing sponsorship of the program.

Disabled athlete and spinal cord research advocate Rick Hansen was the featured speaker at the dinner and cheque presentation, and went for two days of mono sit-ski lessons with WASP instructors, calling more attention to the program. Scotiabank is also a central sponsor of Hansen’s annual Wheels In Motion fundraiser, a run, walk, ride, push or cycle event held across Canada to raise money for the Rick Hansen Foundation and community initiatives like WASP.

The third positive development for WASP, although not connected directly to the program, was the athlete development camp hosted by the Disabled Skiers Association of B.C. and conducted by former Paralympian and disabled ski coach Phil Chew.

The camp, the first of three held in B.C. this winter, was sponsored by 2010 LegaciesNow and the PacficSport Centre to identify future athletes for the provincial and national program. Six athletes took part in the Whistler camp on Saturday and Sunday, getting technical advice from coaches while learning to ski gates under the Emerald Chair.

Future camps are also planned for Silver Star in Vernon and Mt. Washington on Vancouver Island. From those camps, the top athletes will be invited to a three-day camp in Whistler towards the ends of the season, where coaches will go more in depth as to what is expected from the provincial program and how to train during the summer. The following season they will be encouraged to enter races, and the top athletes will be invited to the provincial team.

According to Sian Blythe, director of WASP and the high performance director for the Disabled Skiers Association of B.C., some of those potential athletes will be coming up through the WASP program in the near future.

"WASP’s mandate is to create an opportunity for people with disabilities to try different sports, both winter and summer now, and some of those people will want to continue to be involved afterwards, even to the point where they want to compete," said Blythe.

Scotiabank announced its sponsorship of WASP last year, starting in the 2004-05 season, and the local branch in Creekside was been involved in organizing the dinner and fundraiser for the program in co-operation with the Westin Resort and Spa. One couple that attended the event were so moved by the presentation that they contributed another $10,000 to WASP. Almost $500 more was generated through a 50-50 draw.

According to Blythe the funding is already having an impact by allowing WASP to hire administrators to make the organization more efficient. So far that’s been extremely effective, with WASP delivering 76 lessons in December – double what they could offer last year – while taking 20 people off the wait list that would have normally been turned away.

The Scotiabank funding will also go towards equipment, instructor training, promotional materials and the creation of WASP’s adaptive snowboard program. The adaptive snowboard initiative will require new equipment as well as the creation of a Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors-approved program for volunteer instructors.

Disabled snowboarding is being considered as an official Paralympic sport for 2010.

WASP is currently driven by a core of more than 30 volunteers, growing each year since its inception five years ago. In that five year period, Blythe says the program has conducted over 2,000 lessons. She also estimates that they’ve had to turn away as many as 400 people because of limited resources. Now that the pool of resources is getting bigger, she says the program will turn fewer people away.

"We’ve done the maximum we could, and we’ve still had problems," said Blythe. "We’ve had to say to people that we couldn’t take them, but now we are actually able to find space for those people. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to open this program and make sure everyone who wants to try skiing or one of our other programs gets that chance."

In addition to adaptive snowboarding, the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program is hoping to add new summer sports, including kayaking and hiking using three-wheeled, all terrain carts. Downhill mountain biking won’t be added this summer, but Blythe says it’s a possibility in the near future.

In addition to funding, Blythe says the partnership with Scotiabank and the bank’s reputation for community service will benefit WASP by giving the program more legitimacy. That in turn will make it easier to generate funding from other sources.

"Just the PR of being associated with someone like Scotiabank has made a big difference for us," said Blythe. "We’ve been getting wonderful support from Whistler-Blackcomb and the community, but to grow the program we really needed to find an outside sponsor. It’s exciting to watch this come together and to see the effect that it’s having on the program already, which is to allow us to share the mountains with more people."

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