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New sports program to benefit disabled soldiers

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160_ap_wheelchair_olympians_06The Department of National Defence is working with the Canadian Paralympic Committee on a program called “Soldier On” to help members of the military who have been permanently injured in action or on the job to use sports to recover.

The program is still in its infancy and funding and other details are still being worked out. But there’s hope that some of the soldiers involved in the program will choose to compete for Canada, perhaps at the 2008 or 2010 Paralympic Games.

“I’m sure it will benefit the soldiers — especially now with Afghanistan. A lot of the guys are coming back injured with disabilities,” Sgt. Steve Daniel, who is taking part in the program, told Canada AM.

“A lot of the guys in the military — especially combat arms/infantry — are in very good shape so they’d be a benefit to the program.”

The aim of “Soldier On” is to help disabled military veterans with their Rehabilitation and adjustment to their new Disability. But it also helps speed the rehabilitative process, allows disabled soldiers to interact with their peers and shows them that they still have the ability to achieve even after they’ve undergone an amputation, a spinal-cord injury, or other injury.

Tracey Ferguson is helping with the program from the Canadian Paralympic Committee side. She has been a member of the Canadian Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team since 1991 and has competed in four Paralympics.

She says participating in sport is not only challenging and fun, it has helped improve her quality of life.

“Because you’re more agile in the chair and you pick up skills that you can transfer back into your day-to-day routine,” she explained.

Daniel was injured in June 2005 during a free fall parachuting exercise and fractured his spinal cord. He says he started playing wheelchair basketball after undergoing surgery, two months of rehab and physiotherapy.

He has also tried sit-skiing, which he calls “an amazing experience.” His ultimate goal would be to compete one day for Canada.

“I’d love the represent my country once again, in a different way, wearing the sports hat,” he says.

Ferguson hopes he will and says it’s an experience like no other.

“It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth every minute,” she says.

“To represent Canada on the international stage is a true honour. To come into a stadium with 80,000 people screaming when they announce Canada is a feeling that you just can’t duplicate. It’s a pretty spectacular to have that opportunity.”

To learn more about the “Soldier On” program, tune in to TSN this Sunday for, “Bell Spirit of the Game” at 11 a.m., when host Brian Williams takes a closer look at the new initiative. News Staff

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