By Jamie Bowman
Special to The Record
When occupational therapist Carolyn Harmatiuk first came out to a Comox Valley Wheelchair Basketball night, she expected to see athletes with great upper body strength, playing hard and fast.
“I expected to just be on the bleachers, watching,” she said. “But there were young people, moms, older people, everybody playing.”
Club president Stephane Roy invited Carolyn and her daughter to get into chairs and onto the floor. They both fell in love with the sport and now come out weekly.
“It’s all about inclusion,” she said. “I really like how everybody gets put into the same level.”
The club has both disabled and able-bodied players.
Harmatiuk and club member Mike Nantais organized a special wheelchair-basketball ‘have-a-go’ day last week with occupational therapists, physiotherapists and rehabilitation assistants from the Comox Valley Hospital.
And before Christmas, she organized something similar for students at Huband Elementary. They loved it too, she said. As well as a lot of fun, getting in the chairs is valuable for students – in fact, everyone – to get a sense of how life looks with a disability, but also how it’s also possible to stay active.
Nantais has been playing about three years and through his work as a seating and mobility specialist with Motion Comox, he said he’s always encouraging disabled persons to come out.
“I really wanted the OTs to understand more about the sport so that they could suggest the activity to their appropriate clients,” he said. “The game can be a great way to build strength, endurance, and share some smiles.”
The group meets Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Comox Community Centre’s gym B.
Most of the club’s 16 wheelchairs are still serviceable, but older. The club is looking for sponsors to help with the cost of repairs, updating the chairs, travel to play with other club and new chairs.
The cost of a basketball-specific wheelchair ranges from $2,400 to $6,000, said Nantais.
“One is new, donated by Spartan Wellness, a few others came from money provided by the Comox Valley Community Foundation a few years ago,” said Roy. “The rest are hand-me-downs from other clubs, years ago.
“Any companies or organizations willing to help can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”