Building awareness through sport
Pictured from left, at the front: Avah LaPierre, Emily Ukena, Stingers player Steve Verner, Stingers player and AAC member Patrice Dagenais, Stingers player Kevin McEwen, Aiden Koopen, Bryson Larocque and Logan McGregor; at the back: former Stinger and AAC member Martin Larocque, AAC member Richard Godin, AAC member Ginette Rivet, Mayor Pierre Leroux, Councillor Andre Brisson, Councillor Cindy Saucier and former Stinger and AAC member Greg Ball.   Sawyer Helmer photos

Kalynn Sawyer Helmer
Villager Staff
RUSSELL – The Russell Township Accessibility Advisory Committee gathered at Russell High School on Thurs., Nov. 30, for the 4th annual education day to promote the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which was held on Sun., Dec. 3. In previous years, the Committee has held the event at St. Thomas Aquinas and Embrun High School. Each year players from the Ottawa Stingers wheelchair rugby team volunteer their time to teach the high school students how to play rugby in a wheelchair and bring awareness to the daily lives of persons with disabilities.

Score one for experience
Aiden Koopen raced down the gym to score one for his team during the wheelchair rugby game at Russell High School on Nov. 30. Koopen and the other students had the opportunity to experience what life and sports can be like for someone who doesn’t have the use of their legs.

This year Stingers’ players Steve Verner and Kevin McEwen joined their teammate and Accessibility Advisory Committee member Patrice Dagenais to teach the students. Dagenais spoke to the students about his experiences. Having fallen from two stories up while working on a construction site, he fractured six vertebrae in his neck and spine. After rehabilitating and getting used to his new wheelchair-bound life, Dagenais decided to pursue sports. “Sports had always been a big part of my life and I wanted to reignite that passion.” After years of practice and determination, he made the Canadian Paralympic team and has since won Silver with Canada in 2012 and placed fourth in 2016. Before getting into the official game, Dagenais reminded students, “If you stay positive and keep working hard, you can realize your dreams.”

Township councillors Andre Brisson and Cindy Saucier and Mayor Pierre Leroux were in attendance. Having played in the games in previous years, it was hard to keep them on the sidelines for this year’s event. “It’s a wonderful event and gives the kids an opportunity to see another side of life. This year, I’m a little disappointed since I’m not participating, but I think it’s a great opportunity for the kids to see what it is like to be sitting in a wheelchair,” said Mayor Leroux. “It’s humbling [when I’ve participated in the past]. The spirit of the individuals who are participating and live with this day-in day-out is incredible. There are so many different types of barriers, and somebody who doesn’t have [to deal with those barriers in their life] wouldn’t necessarily realize. Today is to open the kids’ eyes and make them realize [how fortunate they are] and build up their awareness.”