Awareness increasing for Paralympics

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Are the Paralympics becoming more prominent? You wouldn't know it from the TV coverage, but the vibe in Vancouver is another story: Sold-out tickets, standing room only and a Canadian medal rush.

"Oh it's been crazy," Canadian chef de mission Blair McIntosh said. "I think the momentum of what happened during the Olympics has really carried on through the Paralympics. Certainly, for many of our athletes, they've never seen crowds like we've seen here."

McIntosh spoke amid roars from the alpine venue, Whistler Creekside, where visually impaired Canadian skier Viviane Forest and her guide, Lindsay Debou, had just won gold to go with their silver and bronze from earlier in the week. Just before, McIntosh watched Brian and Robin McKeever win their second gold of these Games, taking the 10-km classic cross country ski race. By Thursday, Team Canada had eclipsed the five gold won in 2006.

"Everybody's feeling pretty good about it, particularly knowing that we still have some potential to come," McIntosh said. "What's happening here is this is creating a whole new awareness for the Canadian Paralympic movement."

But how to measure any increase in awareness? Well, there are very tangible ways: Website traffic to the site www.paralympic.ca, inquiries and registration to the grassroots and provincial programs -- and the committee is all primed to pump out information to anyone inspired.

"The programs they have in place are really geared towards recruitment, because many of these athletes are finishing their career as well," McIntosh said.

CHANCE TO PARTICIPATE

Only 3% of Canadians with a disability are involved in organized sport, compared to 31% of able-bodied Canadians, according to the 2009 Active Healthy Kids Report. Changing Minds, Changing Lives is at the centre of the Canadian Paralympic Committee's strategy to reverse this trend and ensure every Canadian with a physical disability is given the opportunity to participate in sport. Since it was launched in 2005, the program has delivered seminars to over 3000 healthcare professionals across Canada.

There also is a free online teachers' resource to help teachers engage students in the Paralympic spirit.

Developed for elementary school students, www.paralympic education.ca provides multi-media lessons, student activities and lesson plans.

"Even at these Games, a lot of the school kids have been coming, and it's that kind of exposure we're looking for and are getting here in Vancouver," McIntosh said.

Results-wise, Canada is on pace to finish third overall in gold medals. While Russia is running away with the overall medal count due to its dominance in Nordic skiing, Canada was the only country in Turin to medal in every sport. With curling and sledge hockey medal rounds still to come, the possibility exists for the Canadian team to repeat that feat in Vancouver.

As for CTV's coverage, we'll never know if Canadians might have kept on watching if the broadcaster had continued with any of the urgency lavished on the Olympics.

"For us, the TV coverage is still the best the Paralympic Games have ever had, so we're looking at this as a positive," McIntosh said. "We still think that the exposure is going to get better from here on."

CTV will air the sledge hockey gold medal final at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday and the closing ceremony on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET.

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM


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