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When Brian Alurralde fell 20 feet in May and injured his spinal cord, he thought he'd never return to sports.
But the Lyndhurst Parapan Am Games gave Brian the opportunity to skilfully take part in handcycling and various other activities.
Badminton, handcycling, basketball, bocce ball and table tennis were only a few of the sports played by patients living with spinal cord injuries at the inaugural event, where 200 patients, volunteers and staff came together to cheer each other. Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre treats patients who require spinal cord rehabilitation.
"Our patients are often experiencing a very stressful time in their lives. Having the opportunity to socialize and participate in sport with other patients, family members and friends exposes them to the possibilities for recreation and leisure when they leave Lyndhurst," explains Nicole Leong, recreation therapist at Lyndhurst.
Sports after spinal cord injury
Brian is an inpatient at Lyndhurst Centre, receiving various therapies for the accident that broke his T4 and T5 vertebrae, damaging his spinal cord.
"When I first got my injury I felt I was so limited to what I could do," explains Brian, who was an avid cyclist before his accident. "Then I saw all the sports and opportunities available to me, and I realized just because I'm in a wheelchair doesn't mean I can't be active.
"Lyndhurst definitely opened my eyes to that."
Leading an active lifestyle by example
Rich Vanderwal sustained a T4 complete spinal cord injury at the age of 21 in a motorcycle accident. Now 44, Rich's career as a recreation therapist and specialist in adaptive sport equipment is dedicated to getting individuals with spinal injury and other neurological conditions active.
"Having adaptive sports and exposure to a healthier part of life is important for patients with spinal injuries," explains Rich. "Showing them equipment that's been invented and the possibility of playing various sports hopefully gives them hope and interest to adapt activity back into their life."
Rich was employed as a recreation therapist at Lyndhurst for five years, until 2006. He continues to work part-time at Lyndhurst by helping patients with wheelchair skills, offering peer support and bringing equipment for patients to use in events such as the Lyndhurst Parapan Am Games that are planned by Therapeutic Recreation services.
"The legacy of the Parapan Am Games"
Kicking the games off with encouraging opening remarks was Dr. Gaétan Tardif, the President of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Toronto Rehab's Medical Program Doctor and Physiatrist-in-Chief.
"It's great to see the energy from our patients and staff, and the desire to celebrate accomplishments in sport and physical activity and inspiring people to do more," said Dr. Tardif.
"This brings the impact and legacy of the Parapan Am games closer to where we are. The legacy goes beyond the facilities, it's the inspiration and the energy to want to do more that can last for generations."