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International visitors come from as far afield as South Africa, Australia and the U.K. And there is no doubt that these groups are having an impact on room nights, with Great Britain only just behind the U.S. for groups coming to Whistler. Britain's "Battle Back" injured solider program, came to Whistler last year to take part in the nordic and alpine activities and are booked in again for this year.
"Whistler is fast becoming one of the most accessible places for these specialist groups to visit," says Chelsey Walker, WASP's executive director.
"With fully accessible housing available at the Athlete's Lodge, an accessible village to explore, accessible sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak, and a whole host of activities, groups are booking return visits and staying longer."
One example she gave was a group from Prince George who came in 2010, staying just a couple of nights and trying bungee jumping. They returned last summer and stayed for four days, five nights and took part in kayaking, gliding, sightseeing on the Peak 2 Peak, and hiking — all through the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program.
Along Came Chelsey
The Colpitts met Walker through the Special Olympics back in the winter of 2008/09. Walker grew up on the slopes of Whistler; her grandfather was the general manager of Mount Tremblant in the 40s' through to the 70s' so the resort lifestyle runs in her blood. She studied history at the University of Victoria and after graduating became a natural history interpreter for Parks Canada. She also became a certified heli-ski guide, but after sustaining injuries moved back home to the Sea to Sky corridor. The job of executive director of the WASP came up while she was at home and she jumped at it. "The idea of working in sport within my own community was beyond belief," she says with a smile. "My grandfather was a great role model for me growing up, he was visually impaired, but this didn't stop him becoming a leader in sport."
Growing up and attending several sports academy programs herself, Walker quickly realized that the model could also apply to adaptive curriculums. She realized that WASP could be so much more than just sports. For people like Sarah, says Walker, the structure provides support, a community of peers, self-esteem building and life skills development. These are key components in life and are skills Walker wants to give the young adults she meets — it's about the earning power and freedom that most people take for granted.
"I wanted to develop a structured training environment that would support every aspect of an athlete's life, which includes life skills and vocational training. This would mean when the athlete decided to exit competitive sport they have employability."