Fernie elementary school wheels out inclusive athletics program

A new athletics program at EIDES aims to promote inclusion.

Since grade two, Neava Thomson has been participating in her elementary school’s running club, despite her physical limitations.

Last Thursday, the tables turned, with the introduction of six sport wheelchairs to Ecole Isabella Dicken Elementary School (EIDES).

Thomson watched from the back of the crowd as her grade four peers excitedly flocked around the new machines, introduced as a part of a new athletics program at EIDES which aims to promote inclusion.

The group of around 30 students split into groups and took part in a team relay. Students took on the challenge of weaving through a set of cones to where they had to throw a beanbag into a hula-hoop.

By far, the fastest of them all was Thomson, who weaved through the cones with relative ease.

‘Great’ and ‘awesome’ were words that she used to describe the first gym class with the new chairs.

These new chairs are the stepping stone for the introduction of many new wheelchair sports into the school’s physical activity programs.

Since the age of two, Thomson has been using a walker and harness to support her while she walks. Her most recent model is the R82 Crocodile, which she continues to upgrade as she grows.

“It’s awesome, in a small town, we don’t have the opportunity to see any kind of wheelchair sports, or even have access to try them, so this is huge,” said Neava’s mother, Kaliegh Thomson.

Pediatric Physiotherapist Helen McAllister, in partnership with Let’s Play BC and Therapeutic Rehabilitation for East Kootenay Kids, was responsible for introducing the wheelchairs to EIDES.

Let’s Play’s mission is to promote inclusion for children of all physical abilities, particularly geared toward those with physical disabilities. It also aims to educate those who are able bodied about what physical inclusion is all about.

McAllister explained that in larger centres, access to this program is more frequent, but in rural communities it is not. In most rural communities, she explained, there are no extracurricular after-school sport wheelchair programs.

“Let’s Play BC wanted to tap in and reach out to rural communities and say, we want to make it available to others as well,” said McAllister.

Through her work, McAllister was able to access the wheelchairs and bring them to the elementary school. When she first proposed the idea to EIDES, the school was enthusiastically on board.

“This is the perfect school for it, they’re all about that, willing to open whatever doors they can,” said McAllister.

“Mrs. Laden is going to incorporate them (wheelchairs) in all her P.E. classes so everybody gets an opportunity to learn about inclusion, abilities, and physical literacy of all abilities,” she said.

During the relay, students in line jumped up and down with excitment as they waited for their turn to go.

“Everyone was saying, that’s so fun!” said Neava after the class had ended.

Many students also commented on how much harder it was to use the chairs than they had originally imagined.

“We had the conversations around how much easier it is for them as able-bodied individuals to move around without the need of a sport wheelchair,” said Kaliegh.

“Whereas Neava today was able to participate in a sport program where it was easier for her to do it in the sport wheelchair rather than having to try and manage [with] her walker.”

Kaliegh said it was encouraging to see her daughter’s peers embrace this new form of transportation with such joy and enthusiasm.

“It’s exciting, it’s just going to spread, to their parents, to their friends,” she said.

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Sports wheelchairs introduced at Ecole Isabella Dicken Elementary School last week. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

A student tries out a sports wheelchair. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

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