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So in the summer of 2010 Walker launched the Sports Academy Program. Young adults who sign up for the program have to volunteer a portion of their time before they get to take part in the sport sessions. "The young adults start with basic skill training like cleaning, doing the mail and equipment maintenance, but they soon progress," explains Walker.
"We have update forms that they fill out with their parents each semester, which detail their vocational and recreational goals. We then try and match them with the appropriate volunteer job. For Sarah she wants to become a cartoonist, so it was her job to design and make the table markers for our gala event in Vancouver."
Both Walker and the Colpitts can't believe the change in Sarah since she started the program. When Sarah's mental health issues started to develop back in the fall of 2008 she became uninvolved with everything around her, unable to participate in life. Seeing her child shrink in front of her Jill called the medical centre, the mental health hotline and a physiatrist, but no one knew where they should send Sarah. Eventually they saw a specialist in Vancouver, but the medication was only part of the solution. "Sarah's social stigmatization is doubled because in addition to her intellectual disability, she suffers from a mental illness," says Dr. Doug McKibbin, Sarah's psychiatrist from the Developmental Disabilities Mental Health Services, Fraser Health.
"Her participation in the Sports Academy has been instrumental in assisting her recovery from the so-called deficit or negative symptoms of her illness, such as amotivation and social withdrawal. These types of sports programs also help correct societal misperceptions of intellectual disability and, or, mental illness and consequently help such individuals integrate into the 'mainstream' in communities. Furthering these efforts benefits everyone."
Sarah and The Gang
Sarah is 23 years old, is a bit of a comedian and an avid athlete. When she started the Sports Academy Program her initial goal was to lose weight for her brother's wedding and she set her sights on training for a triathlon. Working towards this goal has helped Sarah to focus. Her trainer, Chris Kennedy from Black Diamond Fitness, is a volunteer with WASP. He trained with Sarah and "The Gang," an affectionate term for Sarah and her group of friends, three times a week as they prepared for the triathlon. There were six of them in two teams with each athlete doing one section of the race.
Originally from Nova Scotia Kennedy went to the University of New Brunswick to do a degree in Kinesiology. Like many, he felt drawn to the West Coast and has been in Whistler for the past three years. He contacted Walker last summer and has since then been doing a wide range of activities with WASP including seven weeks of training with Sarah. "She started training in early spring and was doing three sessions a week switching between running, swimming, biking and strength training," explains Kennedy.