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An Interview with Canada's Paralympic chief

CPC President sees bright future for Paralympics



When it comes to disabled heroes, Canada takes a backseat to nobody.

Canada is the nation of Terry Fox, who ran halfway across the country on a prosthetic leg to raise funding for cancer research and would have run the whole way if the cancer had not resurfaced. He spawned an annual event that is now recognized in 50 countries and has so far raised over $300 million for research.

Canada is the nation of Rick Hansen, the Man In Motion who circled the globe in a wheelchair over two years to raise money for spinal cord research and for programs for the disabled.

Canada is also the nation of Whistler’s own John Ryan, who hand-pedaled a bike across the country in 1999 to raise money for spinal cord research. Partnering with the Rick Hansen Foundation, Ryan and Hansen have funded a full time research chair at UBC.

When wheelchair racing was added to the 2004 Olympics as a demonstration sport, it was Canada’s Chantal Petitclerc who won the first gold medal.

Whistler’s Stacey Kohut helped to revolutionize the sport of sit skiing, and has done things in a sit ski that nobody ever dreamed of. He is also leading the way in adaptive downhill mountain biking, and has been featured in movies and magazines.

It’s this legacy that the Canadian Paralympic Committee wants to build on by making Canada the number one country when we host the Winter Paralympic Games in 2010.

It’s a bright, sunny Tuesday at Sestriere Borgata, the site of the sit ski and visually impaired Paralympic super G events, and Canadian Paralympic Committee president Henry Wohler is waiting patiently to personally congratulate Edmonton’s Kimberly Joines for winning a bronze medal. Visually impaired skier Chris Williamson and guide Bobby Taylor also won bronze, but he didn’t know that until the gold medal winners were disqualified for breaking a rule on the distance allowed between guides and racers.

Wohler hasn’t been on the job for that long. He became president by default in January when former president Patrick Jarvis was named to the International Paralympic Committee after heading the CPC for seven years.

Wohler, a vice president for the CPC, will fill in as president until the end of his term.

He has been with the CPC board for the past eight years, but his involvement with adaptive high performance sport goes back further than that. He was president of the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing from 1994 to 2005, and was the Chef de Mission for the Canadian Paralympic Team in 2002.

Pique: We’re only four days in, but how would you say things are going so far?

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