Accessible Sports the Focus of new Council

Posted By Sean Meyer
Posted February 10, 2010

Murray Howard and Darda Sales will serve as co-chairperson on the new Accessible Sports Council London and Area. The council, which was launched on Jan. 29, accepted a $2,300 cheque from ParaSport Ontario to help with start-up costs.

Darda Sales knows what it takes to overcome challenges while competing - and succeeding - at the highest level.

A three-time Paralympic swimmer in 2000, 2004 and 2008, and member of both the London Aquatic Club and the London Wheelchair Basketball Association, Darda has travelled the world while competing in a sport she loves. It is a drive to succeed that Darda brings to her role as co-chairperson of the new Accessible Sports Council of London and Area.

"Our main focus is to promote - and help facilitate - accessible sporting opportunities in London. We need to start with promotion, we have to let people know what's available, what's out there, and get people excited about the opportunities London has to offer. But basically we have the same core of athletes participating in several different areas because other people don't hear about the opportunities," says Darda who had her right leg below the knee amputated after a farm accident when she was three year old. "We want this council to be a place people can come and find out what is available. We want to make that part easy for people. We want to make the opportunities as accessible as possible. We want to help the next generation of athletes to know what the opportunities are for them."

Murray Howard knows a great deal about providing opportunities. Murray - the council's other co-chairperson - is president of the George Bray Sports Association, which provides kids with special needs the opportunity to play hockey.

"We could be a very important part of the community. We think all the time about how we can inspire, can help those with special needs, help them with issues of accessibility," Murray says. "There are a lot of things that put London on the sports map. There is a lot of athletic achievement in London, I don't see why this wouldn't be a part of that."

The Accessible Sports Council initiative sprung from ParaSport Ontario (formerly Paralympics Ontario), which has been trying to set up such programs across the province.

The Accessible Sports Council London and Area, is the first to actually get off the ground.

During the council's launch event - appropriately held on Jan. 29 during opening night of the London Blizzard's annual sledge hockey tournament - ParaSport Ontario presented the group with a $2,500 start-up grant. Provided through bi-lateral funding from Sport Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health via its Active 2010 - Sport for More program, the grant will be used to assist with the promotion and facilitation of accessible sport opportunities in London and area.

"We are trying to facilitate bringing together all the successful sports programming in London, all the sports, and have a collective voice. Many voices get heard a lot better than one," Darda says. "Just at our launch we had nine different sports represented. We want this to be a real collaborative effort between the different sporting organizations. With Canada hosting the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, advertising them side-by-side, people are really going to be exposed to these amazing Paralympians. This is the perfect time and place to launch something like this."

The council's focus will be two-fold, raising awareness about what sports and programs are available to Londoners dealing with a variety of physical or developmental issues, but also increasing the profile of accessible sports in general.

"I think there is a definite need for this council. I have been a Paralympic athlete, I have represented Canada at three Paralympic Games, I have lived in London the last nine years and there has been very little coverage - from my personal experience - of Paralympic swimming or Paralympic sport in London and I think that is really sad," Darda says. "We have some fantastic athletes here. I went to Athens in 2004, came home with a silver medal from the second largest sporting event in the world, and nobody knew about it. That is pretty sad."

Murray also knows full well that despite the successes of George Bray - an organization with close to 200 players - it is shocking that many people still don't know the options available to people living with various challenges.

"It's very common for me even though I have been doing this for 30 plus years, even thought organization has been around for over 40 years - this is our 41st season in London - to have parents and even teachers come up to me and say it is amazing that we finally started something like this in London," Murray says. "They want to pat you on the back, but then I tell them we have been around 40 years, I hand-stuff 13,000 letters every season into the school board system and they still aren't aware of it."

Murray isn't someone who typically has a lot of free time on his hands considering all that is involved in George Bray. However, after being contacted to come sit in on a meeting about the council late last year, he quickly found himself deciding it was something he had to make the time for.

"Back in October I was invited to attend a meeting asking if I would be interested in something like this. I sat beside a gentleman from wheelchair basketball, asked him about where they play. He said it really depends because it is tough to find a place to play. I asked why, was it because the schools aren't accessible enough? I've been in the hockey world so long that I didn't know. His comment was because we mark the floors," Murray says. "I swear that was almost the moment I said I would get involved. I asked him was it because the marks are dangerous, are they slippery, he said no, it is just a mark that has to be cleaned. Right then I said okay, I have to listen to this more. In 2010 we are worried about marks on the floor? I heard that same story 25 years ago. That's just unacceptable."

To make the public more aware about the needs of athletes dealing with disabilities while also telling those looking for those opportunities where to find them is going to take time and a lot of hard work.

That thought isn't one that bothers Darda who knows how hard work can pay off.

"I love a challenge, I'm a three-time Paralympian, I know anything worth doing takes hard work," Darda says. "Things aren't going to happen quickly. Others have tried this before, but we are committed to doing this and doing it properly. There are some incredible people on this council. People who are really committed to making a difference."

Murray and Darda agree that perhaps the biggest difference the council can help make is in changing the way people view the world of accessible sports.

"I am an athlete with a disability. We need to be recognized as athletes first. I am at the pool eight or nine times a week, 16 hours a week. I am in the gym 3-4 times a week. I am an athlete. So that is something, we need to start with, language," Darda says. "It's not poor me. I have travelled the world. I feel blessed to be in the situation I am in. I really want to help people experience that. It's also about helping people realise their strengths and giving them an opportunity to pursue them."

Want to know more?

To find out more about the Accessible Sports Council London and Area contact Darda Sales by phone 519-494-0628 or email asclondonarea@gmail.com.

Murray Howard can be reached at the same email address.

Article ID# 2443402

Reproduced from http://www.thelondoner.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2443402

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