With the 2015 Toronto Parapan Am Games less than a year away, the Jamaica Paralympic Association (JPA) is hoping that specialized sports equipment obtained from a marketplace at the Sheraton Centre will boost its athletes’ medal chances.
Chef de missions from the Caribbean and the Americas were in Toronto last week to visit the housing and competition facilities and attend the marketplace where they were able to select equipment, including specialized wheelchairs, bocce balls, shot put balls and javelins.
With $5,000 support grants from the organizing committee, team leaders met with suppliers and selected para-sport equipment that will be shipped to their respective countries.
“This will make a big difference for us,” said JPA board director and Toronto Parapan Am Games chef de mission Randolph Jones who picked javelins, discuses and racing wheelchairs. “This equipment will enhance our training and put us in a position where we can seriously contend for medals next year.”
The retired air traffic controller and Jamaica Rifle Association member expects at least 10 Jamaican competitors will take part in the Games, which will be held from August 7-15.
They include Alphanso Cunningham, Tanto Campbell and Sylvia Grant who were recently bestowed with the Order of Distinction in the Commander Class. Campbell, a discus thrower, is a two-time Paralympic bronze medallist while Cunningham – who competes in the javelin and discus events – participated in the last three Paralympics.
Grant is the most decorated Jamaican female Paralympian with 15 medals in 26 years of international competition.
Trinidad & Tobago’s chef de mission, Judy Beckles, who has been working with people with disabilities for nearly three decades, selected eight wheelchairs and six bocce balls.
“The wheelchairs that we are using right now do not allow our athletes to extend themselves and the throwing equipment is not up to the standard that will enable us to compete on the same footing with other international athletes,” she said. “Hopefully, the equipment will also help more disabled persons to get involved in sports activities.”
T & T is also looking to send about 10 competitors to Toronto next year.
“Some of our athletes have made the required standards while others will have to take part in qualifiers,” said Beckles, who is also the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games chef de mission.
Physical education and science teacher, Vincent Smith, said access to proper para-sport equipment is a major challenge for Barbadian athletes.
“Our field athletes have wheelchairs with non-adjustable backs,” said Smith, who is his country’s team leader. “As a result, they can’t go right back to throw the javelin, discus and shot put ball as far as they would like. Their range of motion is severely restricted.”
He chose shot put balls, javelins and goalball equipment.
A Paralympic Games sport since 1976, goalball is played exclusively by visually impaired athletes using a ball with bell inside.
Smith said access to proper equipment is not the only challenge that disabled athletes face in the English-speaking Caribbean.
“Most of the qualifying competitions are held in North, Central and South America and we just don’t have the financial resources to send our athletes to these events,” he said. “It’s time we get together as a Caribbean group and have our own meets that will also serve as qualifiers.”
The team leaders are impressed with the athletes housing and competition facilities.
“I was very happy with what I saw,” said Beckles. “The organizers have left no stone unturned.”
Jones, a recipient of the 2014 Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service, said the visit was extremely useful.
“I am now more aware of some of the technical requirements and I have a better sense of the environments in which our athletes will stay and compete in,” he said.
Nearly 1,600 athletes from 27 countries will compete in 15 sports, including wheelchair basketball which is making its Parapan Am Games debut.