Be Active

Canadians with Disabilities Tell Their Stories of Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation

The vision of the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability is a society where every person in Canada, regardless of background or ability, has the opportunity to be active and healthy across their lifespan.

The Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability has collected a number of stories about how Canadians with disabilities participate in
physical activity, sport and recreation. Their passion will inspire you and give you ideas about how to embrace physical activity in your own lives. Physical activity provides a number of physical and mental health benefits including increased energy levels, improved heart and lung function, strong bones and muscles, a healthy weight, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved mood and feelings of happiness, the ability to manage stress and overall improved mental health.

So, read on to learn about ways that fellow Canadians have embraced physical activity and all its benefits. You can do it, too! Consider sharing your stories with us, as well.


Principle #1: Quality of Life

What Sport Can Do

My name is Margarita Gorbounova and I am an athlete with a vision impairment. I was born with cataracts in both eyes, which were later removed, leaving me with about 5 to 10% of normal vision. I was lucky to be born in an athletic family and to have been introduced to physical activity at a very young age.

No Mountain Is Too High

My name is Micheal Alexander and I live in Golden B.C. Mine is a unique story. In 1994 I began designing and building sporting equipment for people with mobility challenges. I am a welder by trade. My first product was the F1 sit-ski, which allows people without the use of their legs to enjoy downhill skiing. The F1 has been called the Ferrari of sit-skis and has been used in several Paralympics, garnering multiple Gold medals for several athletes around the world.

Inspired To Play For Fun and Fitness

I don’t think I could imagine my life without wakeboarding and canoeing, cross-country skiing and running. Physical activity has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started swimming at the age of two and playing badminton when I was six. At school I had an amazing elementary gym teacher who offered morning games before school and running club at lunch time.

We've Come A Long Way

We’ve come a long way in enabling blind and visually-impaired people to take advantage of the physical, mental and social benefits of leading an active life. New technologies, programs and attitudes have helped people with disabilities to take their place among their friends, families and the community.

Dancing Toward Ecstasy

Just like Terry Fox, I lost my leg to cancer as a young person. Things could have been worse, my parents were told. It was thought that since I was not “into sports” that the loss would be less severe for me because I would not miss playing outside and doing physical activity. And they were right, sort of. I never was into sports or hockey or football. My interests were almost entirely sedentary, i.e. reading, listening to music and yes, watching television.

No Goal Is Out Of Reach

My name is Marco Giovanni Pasqua and I was born on July 4, 1985, in Vancouver, British Columbia. This date was the beginning of my fight for a “normal” life. I only weighed 2 lbs 10 oz at birth and was 3 months premature. My parents would later find out that I was also born with Cerebral Palsy (Spastic Diplegia).

Principle #2: Empowerment

Running Is Forever

In December 2012, a friend gave me some good advice. In an email he wrote that even though the future held uncertainty, I could be sure of one thing: running is forever.

At the time, my wife Colleen had just begun dialysis treatments, having first learned she had kidney disease in 2008. I was undergoing tests to determine if I could donate one of my kidneys to her.

Be Active

I have been totally blind since birth. Before I came along, my family was very active in sports. My dad played hockey, football, ran track and road races, skated, skied, and curled. My mom walked, rode a bike, skated, and cross country skied. My brother was growing to love swimming and skiing. When I arrived, the family did not change their lifestyle and just expected me to do what everyone did. We had to adapt some activities slightly. We put rice in beach balls for ball games. When I was old enough and tall enough, we got a tandem bicycle.

The Journey of Trying Something New

As I drive towards Spirit River, Alberta on a beautiful Friday morning, my heart is calm like the weather before a major storm, but my mind is racing 100 miles per hour, full of excitement.

I am a C 6/7 quadriplegic and I have always been afraid of heights, but I have “jumped” at the challenge that our Peer Event Coordinator, Brian, has given to me. All my friends think I am crazy, but, yes, I have agreed to go skydiving!

Bridging Gaps in My Mind's Eye

Having a disability does not mean you are unable to do things like play hockey, ride a bike, sail a boat, snow board, or have a teen business cutting grass or blowing snow. It just means that there needs to be an openness to trying and doing things differently. As an active person with a physical disability, I have learned through experience that a lot of my ability happens when I am able to bridge gaps in my mind’s eye.

On Course And Giving Back

I was born in Vienna, Austria in 1981 and grew up in Calgary, Alberta. Shortly after my seventeenth birthday, while on an exchange program in France, I broke my neck diving off rocks with friends. After months of rehabilitation and therapy, I decided to get back to school, now as a C 5 quadriplegic with limited shoulder movement and weak biceps. I graduated high school with my class in the spring of 1999, and went on to earn my BA and MSc in psychology at the University of Calgary. In the fall of 2012, I completed a Ph.D. in educational contexts.

It's All About Having Fun

As a kid, I was always active; playing games, recreational and organized sports like skiing, hockey, soccer, racing dirt bikes, football, you name it, I played it. I loved to be outdoors, either having fun or doing physically demanding labour jobs. Being active was central to my lifestyle. Without it, I went a little stir crazy.

Principle #3: Community

Paddles, Running Paths and Friends

In the summer of 2009 I received an e-mail that changed my life in ways I never thought possible. The Rideau Canoe Club in Ottawa was starting an adaptive canoe/kayak program. I loved water and boats; but I had never successfully participated in a community recreation program. The only sport I had ever played was goalball (a sport specifically designed for people who are blind or partially sighted).

Find Your Fun

My name is Mia Fairley. I am a substitute teacher in Lac Ste. Anne County in Alberta. I could never have anticipated the great passion I feel for promoting activity and sport for persons with disabilities. That is why I am thankful everyday for the birth of my three children. My son was born first and introduced me to the congenital birth defect called Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Both of my daughters would be born later. My first daughter would also be born with Spina Bifida, but her condition was significantly milder than her brother's.

Welcome To My World

by Karen Ide, Special Olympics Alpine Ski Coach

My name is Karen Ide. I am a volunteer Special Olympics alpine ski coach at Blue Mountain, Ontario. I have been coaching for 16 years and know many athletes with disabilities. One in particular stands out from our team. She is one of the athletes that I coach, and her name is Robin Shuter.

The Sky's The Limit

My name is Sarah White and I’m 17 years old. I was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a form of cancer, at only 7 months. My spinal cord was affected; therefor I do not have the use of my legs. Never the less, I have always been very active and have made the best of my abilities.

At a very young age I was encouraged to get into sports. Since then I have been involved in horseback riding, swimming, skiing, sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball, and track and field. You might think I am a sports addict, and you would be right.

Why Physical Activity Matters

Physical activity holds a very special place in my life. If I wasn’t physically active, both before and after my spinal cord injury, I would not have met close to the number of people I have been introduced to through going to the gym and playing sports up to the national level. I wouldn’t be motivated to set new goals on a weekly basis; nor would I be as mobile or have the strength for independent, everyday living. I would more likely be sitting on the couch not wanting to improve my physical health and well being.

Principle #4: Equal Access

Overcoming Challenges in Pursuit of a Black Belt

My name is Kaley McLean. I am a very competitive person by nature and enjoy participating in physical activity. Currently, I am involved in recreational swimming, downhill skiing and pilates.

Being active makes me feel good. It energizes me for daily living, and provides me with strength that increases my endurance. I want to share with you my experience of learning the martial art of Tae Kwon Do.

The Only Failure is Failing to Try

These seven words in the title of my story are words that I keep close to my heart, ever since I fell asleep skiing at the age of 14 and broke my back, leaving me paralysed from the chest down. After six months of hospital and rehab, I re-entered highschool completely focused on my education, and leaving sport behind. I remained active with my friends, but was concerned that because I had no trunk muscles, my balance would be an issue for trying new things.

Active Living Is For Everyone

For me, active living has become a part of my lifestyle. Of course, this did not just happen, and I did not expect it to happen at all. Active living, I thought, was something for athletes who played sports. Growing up partially-sighted, I was not highly involved in the sports that were available to me at the time, especially since balls seemed to be invisible until they reached my face (at which point it was too late to avoid being hit).

From The Sidelines To A Healthy Life

As a person with a physical disability, I understand how hard it is to be accepted when it comes to inclusion in sports and recreation in the community. That's why the message of inclusion promoted by the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability is so very important to me. Growing up and attending school was very hard when it came to participating in any activities. Whether it was just playing in the schoolyard or participating in the gymnasium, adults were hesitant of me getting involved, for fear I would get hurt.

Just Add Water

As a 17-yr-old girl from Halifax, Nova Scotia, born with moderate quadriplegic cerebral palsy, being active has kept me mobile and on my feet, though I’m only able to walk about a block with great difficulty using a walker. I participate in a regular swim team, therapeutic horseback riding, and biking. Recently, I also sailed, downhill skied, and played sledge hockey. In the past, I’ve tried rock climbing, water skiing, canoeing, bowling, boccia, and wheelchair rugby, basketball, and volleyball.

Principle #5: Respect and Dignity

Dancing From The Heart

About four years ago, I began to feel like dancing again. I belong to a church where dance is very much a part of the worship service. I began dancing with other people who liked to worship through dance. It was during this time that some families approached me to ask me if I might like to teach their children to dance. I had been trained in classical ballet as a young person but did not think I would still be able to teach the art of dance.

A Story Of Survival

My name is Mitchell Ravvin and I am the Owner of Rave Results, a professional fundraising service that assists small and medium size nonprofits. I was born and raised in Calgary, and other than a couple of work stints in both Toronto (4 years) and Los Angeles (1 year), I have lived in Calgary for the majority of my 50 years of life.

Both Sides Of The Fence

Perspective has come to me in many forms, be it from a life lesson or by way of my fathers death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), or in dealing with vision loss. Having discovered I had Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was 4 years old, knowing I would slowly lose my sight, I have lived a life of perspective and appreciation.

A New Life

Early in 2004 , I got up at 5:30 am to get ready for work as was the norm. When I looked in the mirror, everything was a blur. I could see my skin colour but could not make out any features. I washed and dressed, and my field of vision just wasn't clearing. What to do?

Daring To Dream

I have been blind since birth and am from Winnipeg. In the mid 1960's, Manitoba probably had a population equal to less than half the number of people who lived in Toronto. Consequently, the provincial government of the day believed it was more economical to send students with visual disabilities to the W. Ross Macdonald School in Brantford, Ontario than it would have been to educate us locally in our own neighbourhood schools.