Adaptive and Inclusive Sports: Boccia, and partnership with the CCPSA - Easter Seals Canada

ADAPTIVE AND INCLUSIVE SPORTS: BOCCIA

Easter Seals’ Partnership with the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association (CCPSA)

Easter Seals will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in Canada in 2022. Over that time, Easter Seals have developed many programs and services in support of people and families living with disabilities, including accessible overnight summer camps, the Easter Seals seals/stamps fundraising campaign, and Red Shirt Day of Action for AccessAbility and Inclusion. In celebration of National AccessAbility Week and the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, Easter Seals Canada is featuring a sport to look out for: boccia. Boccia is a Paralympic sport of precision and strategy similar to lawn bowling or curling, played by athletes with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and related disabilities.

Image of two seated individuals wearing identical jerseys and a medal around their necks

Image above: Terrie Hefford (left) with friend, Nikki, at the 2018 Canadian Boccia Championships in St. John’s where Hefford took silver.

Easter Seals’ first boccia program began in 2011 at Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador in partnership with the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association (CCPSA). Boccia Canada is the boccia delivery arm for the CCPSA, the national sport organization for boccia. Boccia has since expanded to other Easter Seals organizations across Canada, including Easter Seals Nova Scotia and Easter Seals Manitoba (also known as Manitoba Possible). Today, many Easter Seals clients have fun playing boccia and competing in local, provincial and national boccia tournaments. The hope is that more boccia programs will take shape in the future so that even more people can experience the joy and benefits that the sport has to offer.

In Newfoundland, veteran  boccia player, Terrie Hefford, is looking for more opportunities to practice at Easter Seals House alongside her coach, former Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador (ESNL) Program Director, Eileen Bartlett. Rookie Jennifer Kowalson from Manitoba, on the other hand, is just getting her feet wet with six months of training under her belt. While Hefford and Kowalson may be at different stages of development, one thing they agree on is that boccia is inclusive to all and provides an opportunity for them to make friends, build connections, and participate in sport. Recently, Kowalson and Hefford sat down to talk about their experience with the CCPSA.

“Some of my friends asked me: ‘Why don’t you come to boccia?’ I said, ‘Boccia? What’s boccia? I’ve never heard of it.’ They said ‘Come, you’ll love it.’ I went up to try it and within ten minutes I was hooked. I loved it.” – Terrie Hefford.

Kowalson has always loved volunteering with different organizations, but six months ago she decided to participate in boccia as an athlete for the first time ever with Easter Seals Manitoba (Manitoba Possible). “I’ve always thought that, as someone with a more high-functioning disability, I can help out with the programs. I’ve never actually been a part of the programs and that’s something that I really enjoyed this year. My favourite thing about Easter Seals is the people and the programs that are offered. There are so many different opportunities to participate for so many different people,” said Kowalson.

Close-up photo of a young woman, smiling, wearing glasses and a jean jacket against a white wall

Image above: Jennifer Kowalson was working as volunteer for different organizations when a friend encouraged her to join the boccia program at Easter Seals Manitoba (Manitoba Possible).

Hefford has been involved in the boccia program at Easter Seals Newfoundland & Labrador for four years and trains in St. John’s alongside athletes from the National Boccia Training Squad. She was drawn to boccia right away: “I would be on the court morning, noon, and night if I could. I just love the sport so much… My favourite thing about Easter Seals is boccia and the people. I live, breathe, and sleep for boccia… Each practice I learn something new and I’m given new challenges which I find very exciting.”

Boccia offers a unique experience for the athletes: the feeling of being a part of a family and community of like-minded individuals. It originally started as a sport for individuals with severe cerebral palsy, but has expanded and is now enjoyed by people with a wide variety of disabilities.  As Executive Director of the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association (CCPSA), Peter Leyser explains, “Boccia is a sport that is open to everyone. Participants often comment on both the sense of community and the support they receive from others participating or volunteering.”

“Two of our core values are inclusion and collaboration. We are grateful for the collaboration with Easter Seals and truly understand that to achieve success and make a difference, partnership is essential.” – Peter Leyser, Executive Director, CCPSA

“I’d like to thank Easter Seals for boccia. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a boccia program. It’s a very important part of my life. I would love to see CCPSA expand more and I would love to see more teams in Newfoundland so we can have more of a competition,” says Hefford.

Her sentiments are echoed by Kowalson. “I want to see the boccia program in Manitoba grow. I want to see new people attending competitions and competing with other athletes from around the province… I think it’s important to get the word out there. Tell people that there is this boccia program that people can take part in. Once we have the athlete base we can get more officials and coaches to come in too,” Kowalson urges. “My advice for someone who’s thinking of trying the sport is to get out there. Yes, it can be scary at first, but you’ll end up making many connections and friends. You might find that you love it, so get out there and try!” She continues, “I can see myself continuing with the program. I’ve seen that there are more connections to be made and more friends to be had. I have enjoyed building relationships with the other leaders and athletes.”

Related Links

#boccia #paraboccia #taketheshot #atoidejouer #inclusivesport

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