Kayaker wants inclusion

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

From Mississauga to Milan, kayaker Adrienne Skinner is pulling toward a breakthrough this weekend as she races at the European Canoe Championships -- the sport's first international competition for disabled athletes.

Skinner explained yesterday in an excited voice from her hotel in Milan that while this weekend's event is a huge milestone, the long-term goal is to get the adaptive canoe/kayak included in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England.

For that to happen, the sport needs to be practiced in 18 countries and on four continents. And Canada's taking the lead.

"Canada's been pretty good for other sports for people with disabilities, like skiing, swimming and rowing, and it's about time paddling got in there too," Skinner said.

A longtime Mississauga Canoe Club member and special education teacher, Skinner, 40, is the western Ontario co-ordinator for the national program PaddleAll, which is guiding Canada's top canoe clubs in developing programs for people with any type of disability, whether physical or intellectual.

This summer, the 19-time national champion Mississauga Canoe Club, along with Wai Nui Outrigger Club in Oakville will offer a four-week introductory course in June for anyone who would like to get on the water but hasn't had the chance.

Olympic kayaker Carrie Buday will coach the program, which is for those aged 12 and up.

"It's a great sport for people who have mobility problems," said Skinner, who has an artificial leg as the result of a car accident at the age of 3.

"You can get out on the water and see a whole part of where you live that you would never see otherwise. It gives you a great sense of freedom."

This weekend Skinner will race in K-1 and will join Jim Mahaffy of Combermere, Ont., in K-2. At this point, Skinner is more of an activist than high-performance athlete, but she made the trip so that Canada could be represented and compete alongside athletes from Britain, France, the U.S., Italy and Brazil.

"We kind of scrambled to get here in time," Skinner said. "We haven't really developed our classification system officially. All that kind of thing is just starting. As we go along there will be some fine tuning and more athletes."

Classification defines the minimum disability level to compete fairly in a designated boat class. It's based on the athletes' mobility and functional ability such as whether they have use of their legs, trunk or arms.

For this aspect, Canadian canoe kayak is looking to its counterparts in rowing, who are several years ahead in evolving to include athletes with a disability.

Adaptive rowing started in Canada in 2001, was added to the Paralympic Games in 2005, and Canada won international medals in 2006 and 2007.

Allison Sheard, coordinator of the National Adaptive Team for Rowing Canada, recently made a presentation to the canoe/kayak community at the First International PaddleAll Conference in Montreal. She noted that the international rowing federation, FISA, showed leadership by asking all countries to send adaptive rowing crews to the 2004 worlds.

"They (canoe/kayak) are in a very similar situation to where adaptive rowing was in 2002," Sheard said. "Integrating adaptive rowing within the world championships, instead of as a stand alone event, gave a higher visibility and encouraged rapid development."

Canada has qualified in all four boat classes for the Paralympic rowing regatta and athletes will be looking to secure their seats at the upcoming selection camp June 8-15 in London.

HORSE PLAY

Thursday was Canada Day in Spain as Ian Millar of Perth and Eric Lamaze of Schomberg kicked off the international show jumping tournament in Madrid with back-to-back wins. Lamaze also recorded a second-place finish during the day's three international competitions.

Eight-time Olympian Millar, 61, won the biggest event of the day on his intended Olympic mount, In Style. He beat 56 starters from 11 nations in the speed competition, where the fastest round with the fewest faults wins. Millar and In Style were faultless and stopped the clock nearly 1.5 seconds faster than their closest rival, German veteran Otto Becker.


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