Let’s Play BC held a games evening on Dec. 5 at the Timms Community Centre to encourage younger children to get involved in wheelchair sports. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Let’s Play BC hosted a games night for younger children to encourage physical fitness

Let’s Play BC and local wheelchair sports boosters are helping kids in wheelchairs be more active.

Several youngsters turned out for the special Let’s Play event Thursday evening at the Timms Community Centre, the location for weekly wheelchair basketball for older kids and young adults.

While the activities start out as fun relays, games of tag and other non-competitive movements to build the kids’ skills in using sports wheelchairs, the goal is serious because children in wheelchairs are less likely to be active.

Let’s Play BC encourages these kids to be if not involved in organized sports, to be more active as part of a healthier lifestyle.

“Giving them the chair and giving them a chance to play like this is a really great opportunity, not just for the kids but also the parents,” said Marni Abbott Peter, with Let’s Play BC. “It’s huge, not just in terms of their physical strength, and their daily living activities. It helps encourage their independence and foster their ability to do that and also self-confidence.”

If the youngsters needed inspiration, they need only looked around the gym at the Timms centre, to Matthew Norris, Joel Aukema, Megan Smith and Ben Garrett who have competed at elite levels.

Norris, a 19-year-old who lives in Milner, is a multi-sport athlete who currently enjoys basketball and hockey.

“I chose it because it’s fun,” he said. “But I also play sledge hockey as well. I’ve been playing for nine years… The thing I like about basketball is we’re all the same age so we all get along together. It’s just fun.”

Aukema said sports have given him an opportunity to meet new friends and travel.

I’ve been playing for eight years now, and I’ve stuck with it because I’ve really enjoyed the people I play with. It’s a lot of fun,” said the 19-year-old Murrayville resident said.

Smith lives in Vancouver and travels out to the Fraser Valley for sports.

“I just like getting to hang out with my friends and create memories,” the 17-year-old said. “I just picked it, because it was a sport that made me happy and I just love it.”

Garrett’s family was looking for something to keep him active.

“I’ve been playing for 15 years. I started playing when I was five,” said the 20-year-old from Abbotsford. “I played a few different sports at the time, but eventually just stuck with basketball.”

Wheelchair sports is unique because people who don’t require chairs can participate but must remain seated in the chairs. A few people at the Thursday evening event were non-chair users who came out to support friends or family and learned that sports in a wheelchair is far from easy.

“I feel that’s for any paralympic sort. You have to have the upper body strength,” Norris noted.

Smith explained that wheelchair sports require a different skill set, which can be a surprise to people.

“I believe once they get in the chair, they realize how much work we actually put in, to pushing the chair, dribbling, shooting,” she said. “It’s not easy. You need to have the strength to do everything.”

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Marni Abbott Peter brought Let’s Play BC equipment to Langley for a special evening of wheelchair games on Dec. 5 to encourage younger kids who are in wheelchairs to be more active. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Norris, Joel Aukema and Ben Garrett were at the Timms Community Centre for their weekly basketball evening on Dec. 5. Langley is one of only a few Lower Mainland communities with wheelchair basketball. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Ben Garrett was one of the local athletes who does wheelchair basketball at the Timms Community Centre. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Athletes such as Matthew Norris, Karen Marler and Joel Aukema compete in wheelchair basketball which require a great deal of upper body strength to both navigate the wheelchair and wield the ball. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Norris, Joel Aukema (seen from behind) and Karen Marler are local wheelchair athletes who have competed at elite levels. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

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