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Tuesday, August 29, 2000
The Paralympic movement

Athletes heading to Sydney hope corporate sponsorship spurs recognition


  Jason Lachance should be a local celebrity and hero, admired by all who pass him on the streets of Ottawa -- his home town -- for his athletic achievements.

  Athletes heading to Sydney hope corporate sponsorship spurs recognition

  What Donovan Bailey is incapable of doing, Lachance has already accomplished, and he's only 19. He owns world records in three track events --the 100, 200 and 400 metres.

  But there's a catch. Lachance competes in a wheelchair.

  It's a fact that automatically disqualifies him from the mega-hype and attention that will be heaped on so-called able-bodied athletes that will be competing at next month's Olympics in Australia.

  Two weeks ago at a meet in Sweden, Lachance set new world records in the 200 and 400. This is the first media mention of those accomplishments.

  The achievements are great, but the recognition is unjustly sparse.

  "It's strange, because I've been to all these prestigious events as far as the disabled community is concerned, but I'd be lucky to get a newspaper article," said Gloucester's Stuart McGregor, a gold-medal winning middle-distance runner who is visually impaired.

  "It's not like I'm complaining about it, but you won't see me on the front page of the sports section."


  The disabled-athletic community is striving to break down the barriers that separate their accomplishments and efforts from those of their better-known counterparts.

  There are signs that this is happening. Yesterday on Parliament Hill, about a dozen of the 161 Canadian team members who will be competing at the Paralympics in Sydney were introduced to reporters.

  Denis Coderre, the minister of amateur sport, pledged the government's support of the athletes and confirmed he'll attend the opening ceremonies of the Games, which begin in October.

  The corporate logos of sponsors of the nation's Paralympic athletes were afforded prominent display. Pfizer Canada, the pharmaceutical manufacturer, presented Team Canada rep Marc Quessy with a donation of $150,000, money which will help subsidize the expense of sending the athletes to Australia.

  McGregor is encouraged by the support -- especially if it means he won't have to shell out the $2,500 that was requested of the Canadian athletes to pay for their travel to Sydney.

  He tried a few years ago to land a corporate sponsor on his own to help subsidize his costs. He knocked on doors and made dozens of calls. Nobody was interested.


  "I pretty much got zero response," said McGregor.

  But now that those days of zero response are over, disabled athletes hope that their efforts will be rewarded with more recognition.

  "My big objective is to see no Paralympics, just one Olympic movement," said Orleans native Chantal Benoit, who plays wheelchair basketball for Canada.

  It's an objective that seems to be gaining popularity with some of the athletes -- and in the corridors of power on Parliament Hill.

  "From now on, there are no more (disabled) athletes in Canada," said Sen. Joyce Fairbairn, chair of Friends of the Paralympics. "A Canadian athlete is a Canadian athlete, and we salute them all."

  It's a nice sentiment, but try telling it to an athlete like Jason Lachance who could travel the length of Bank St. without getting the slightest bit of recognition.

  "Our sports are getting a lot bigger," said McGregor. "But I don't think it will ever be quite equal."


  Ottawa-area athletes who will be competing at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

  Chantal Benoit, Orleans, basketball; Jacques Bouchard, Gatineau, athletics; Jeff Christy, Ottawa, goalball; Rob Christy, Ottawa; goalball; Alec Denys, Aylmer, archery; Kirby Kranabetter, Ottawa, rugby; Linda Kutrowski, Ottawa, basketball; Jason Lachance, Gloucester, athletics; Mirane Lanoix-Boyer, Hull, boccia; Chelsea Lariviere, Mountain, athletics; Martin Larocque, Ottawa, rugby; Martin Pelletier, Gatineau, table tennis; Marnie Peters, Ottawa, basketball; Joseph Radmore, Kemptville, athletics; Caitlin Renneson, Gloucester, athletics; Dominique Tremblay, Hull, athletics.
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