Building a community for accessible sports

Manitoban athletes with disabilities share their stories

Paralympic wheelchair rugby player Jared Funk is one of the co-founders of Accessible Sport Connection Manitoba.

Many athletes with a disability have lost their access to sport during the COVID-19 pandemic. Founded in 2018, Accessible Sport Connection Manitoba (ASCMB), formerly known as Manitoba Accessible Sport Council, aims to connect accessible sports organizations and support athletes with disabilities. 

Kirby Cote and Jared Funk are co-hosting a series of events for ASCMB titled “Disabled People Talking: A Virtual Conversation on Accessible Sport in Manitoba.” The event on Jan. 16 invited participants to share their stories, experiences and ideas about accessible sport in Manitoba.

As stated on the event’s Facebook page description, “through individual storytelling, we hope to begin gathering our community together, by sharing the joys and connection that accessible sport and recreation might facilitate.”

ASCMB “is an organization that is looking to bring the accessible sport community together,” Cote says. There are separate organizations for each accessible sport, so they “just want to come in and try to create some community,” Cote says. They also hope to increase communication and participation. 

Cote, a visually impaired Paralympic swimmer, and Funk, a wheelchair rugby Paralympic athlete, both have the role of communications and collaborations within the organization. Cote also holds the title of vice-president. 

ASCMB also hosted the H.E.A.R.T. awards, which honoured athletes with disabilities. 

The event was inspired by a similar one Cote attended for the Burning Man organization about inclusion and racism. 

“It was excellent,” Cote says. “I was able to just sit and listen to what (the speakers) had to say and hear about how the Burning Man community could become stronger within itself and better for BIPOC folks. I wanted to give persons with a disability in Manitoba the same opportunity to come in and share their experiences in accessible sport – not too much direction, just whatever story they’d like to share.”

Funk sees the virtual format as an opportunity to connect athletes across Manitoba. “The very hard thing about Manitoba is that we’re very well spaced out,” Funk says. “So this is great, where we can just get everybody together to talk and (ask) questions, (share) stories (and) communicate with each other,” Funk says. 

The event is especially important now, because “persons with a disability living through a pandemic, and especially active persons with a disability ... have lost a lot more access than an able-bodied person has,” Cote says. “They are going to be, most likely, some of the last people to see a return to play or a return to sport or a return to activity just because of any risk factors associated with their health.”

“I think having this event, it’s the beginning, and hopefully when things become safe for our community to get back to being active, we’re ready to start creating that post-pandemic environment,” Cote says. 

Both co-hosts highlighted the contributions people from Winnipeg have made to accessible sports, including the invention of wheelchair rugby. “We really are the heart of accessible sport in Canada, and we’ve really never come together to acknowledge that, and we would like to bring all that back together as a group,” Cote says. 

“Creating a community and becoming stronger, having a stronger voice is one of our main focuses,” Funk says. 

To keep up to date with future events and connect with Cote and Funk, follow ASCMB’s Facebook or their Instagram, @ascmanitoba.

Published in Volume 75, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 20, 2021)

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