(Ottawa, ON) – The Bridging the Gap program, which has introduced thousands of people with disabilities to wheelchair sports and recruited dozens of Paralympians since it was founded in 1997, is in danger of closing if a funding partner is not found by June 30th.
“The Bridging the Gap program is the first and sometimes the only contact that people with disabilities have with wheelchair sports,” said Bridging the Gap National Coordinator Duncan Campbell. “We visit rehab hospitals, conduct Have a Go days in the community, loan out equipment, and do basically whatever it takes to get a person with a disability connected to a sport that could change his or her life.”
The Bridging the Gap program works with provincial and national sport organizations to employ program coordinators in most provinces. Every year, hundreds of people with a wide range of disabilities come through the program. Some, like wheelchair rugby’s Trevor Hirschfield or sit-skiing’s Caleb Brousseau, go on to win medals at the Paralympics. Many others become recreational participants, gaining strength, confidence and independence through sport.
No one knows the benefits of involvement in wheelchair sport better than Campbell. After becoming a quadriplegic in a diving accident, he invented wheelchair rugby along with some friends in 1977. Today, wheelchair rugby is one of the most popular Paralympic sports in the world. Through his work with Bridging the Gap, Campbell has seen participation in sport change people’s lives off the field of play.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that wheelchair sports changes lives,” he said. “We get people who have just sustained a spinal cord injury and don’t know what life holds for them. They start playing a sport and all of a sudden they’re meeting people who’ve been thriving for years with the same disability. They get some confidence. Before long, they have a job or they’re living independently.”
Unfortunately, shifts in funding priorities have threatened the nearly twenty-year-old program. Campbell hopes that a nationwide sponsor will come on board to support the program.
“We know this program works. We know that it’s a best-practice,” said Campbell. “We just need a funding partner to come on board.”