By Andrew Mitchell
Last week the Department of National Defence and Canadian Paralympic Committee jointly announced a new program that will use sport to help rehabilitate members and former members of Canadian Forces (CF) who become disabled.
The Soldier On program will be funded by both entities and by a mix of private and corporate donations, providing former soldiers with equipment, coaching, and support as they make their transition back into the world.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for these individuals to continue active and healthy lifestyles,” said Gordon O’Connor, Minister of National Defence. “We feel that Soldier On will make an important difference in their lives and those of their families.”
The Canadian Paralympic Committee and its member organizations have long promoted sport as a way to help rehabilitate injured Canadians. Some of Canada’s top Paralympians were active in sport within months of an illness or injury.
The announcement was made at the Paralympic Sport Summit in Ottawa last week, bringing together members of the CF with Paralympic athletes, national team coaches, and rehabilitation experts. CF participants also got to try seven different Paralympic sports.
General Rick Hillier, Chief of Defence, pledged to integrate the program through the Canadian military’s own personnel support programs to enhance the morale and welfare of wounded soldiers.
“The dedication of our Paralympians, equaled by the dedication of our wounded soldiers, is a wonderful thing to behold — working together, to help those in uniform, is simply overwhelming in its inspiration for all of us,” said Hillier.
According to Carla Qualtrough, president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the program will be far-reaching and extend from the recreational level to the national team level.
“This will be an exciting chance for the soldiers to not only gain exposure to these sports, but also to experience firsthand the benefits and possibilities of sport for persons with a disability,” she said. “Sport at all levels, from recreational to high performance, can help people with a physical disability on many levels — from enhancing rehabilitation to increasing their quality of life.”
The Canadian Paralympic Committee has posted a Soldier On link to their home page at www.paralympic.ca that explains the program and accepts donations from the public.