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International para athletes flocking to cutting-edge accessible program in Cochrane


It's only a few months old, but a para snow program in Cochrane is already gaining international attention. 

The Canadian Para Snow Sport Training Centre officially launched in September. Based out of the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre, it offers wheelchair and visually-impaired athletes training in multiple disciplines, both on and off the slopes. 

"For me, it means a lot," para alpine skier Hanna Chilson said. "Every day we are out training and learning new things and improving our abilities. Everything we need is in this building."

The centre offers an accessible gym, swimming pool, arena and physio facility. 

"I didn't realize what privilege I had before I had to use facilities that are accessible," sit skier Bailley Unahi added. "So coming to the facilities here is pretty awesome."

The program is hosted by Canadian Adaptive Snowsports (CADS) Alberta. It provides opportunities for those with all abilities to learn to alpine ski or snowboard, and offers its top athletes entrance into competitive international events. 

It currently boasts participants from across Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland and Australia. 

"This venue is central to our on-snow training venues of Naskiska, Mount Norquay and Canada Olympic Park," program director Ozzie Sawicki said. "There are limited resources like this for athletes at a performance level, (but) here we can put them into a safe environment where they can really excel, learn, and get involved in an activity that is as much a social opportunity as it is a physical opportunity."

Both Unahi and Chilson agree the physicality of the program isn't all that's on offer. 

"Knowing that we have the community and support backing us in our dreams and passion is super helpful," Chilson told CTV News. 

"We are seeing some up-and-coming people with disabilities that in the past may not have had the nerve or wherewithal to say I can come and train here," Sawicki said. "They're seeing these athletes train here daily and they are going 'hey, I can come to the gym and I can become a part of that.'"

CADS is a national organization with over 1,000 disabled members and 2,000 abled-bodied volunteers. 

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