The Steadward Bears Para Athletic Program

A leader in adapted physical activity and Para sport development, The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement works with more than 1,000 children and adults with disabilities and trains more than 250 students every year.

It was founded in 1978 by Dr. Robert Steadward, the first president of the International Paralympic Committee and a pioneer in the advancement of Para sport in Canada and globally. In 2016, The Steadward Centre opened a brand new facility, extending space from 4,000 to 17,000 square feet for adapted physical activity and Para sport programs.

The Steadward Bears Para Athletic program is affiliated with the University of Alberta’s Green and Gold Track and Field Club, affording para athletes the opportunity to compete at sanctioned events under the club and offering some shared track and field equipment.

This has been a good foundation for the Para Athletic Program, but it needed a bit of a boost, especially to grow the program.

“Previously there wasn’t a specific para track and field program in Edmonton,” says Maegan Ciesielski, Steadward Centre Para coach. “People had to join a non-Para track club and see if they could accommodate them. They’d have to bring their own equipment and train on their own.”

The equipment costs, plus the cost of training facilities and coaching often seemed out of reach for the athletes with disabilities.

“Para sport is more expensive because there are fewer people doing it,” Ciesielski says. “You need specialised equipment. You might need to travel farther for meets. It’s harder to train indoors for certain events. A racing chair costs $4,000. You can’t do the sport without a chair. Imagine if you had to spend $4,000 on running shoes?”

A boost came from the purchase of new wheelchairs, paid for in part from grant money from the Paralympic Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

Ciesielski says the new chairs significantly increases the program’s capacity, especially for newcomers to the sport.

“Having these chairs helps us meet our demand, especially that we were able to purchase chairs that are more accommodating,’’ she says.  ‘’The ones we had access to were more geared towards a specific type of build.’’

Fostering burgeoning talent is of particular interest for the Steadward Bears Para Athletic Program.

“We’re really interested in pathways for athletes and coaches,” says Jessica Ferguson, the Steadward Centre’s Athlete Development Coordinator. “How can we create settings where they can come in, learn competitive skills, engage with the sport and start to explore it even more?” How do we create those pathways for them to grow into some of those more high-performance streams and support that continuum of learning? How can we grow the program or the sport to the point where coaches and athletes feel there are these resources and programs out there for them to be engaging with?”

In addition to the new chair, the program has expanded its camps and is able to incorporate guest coaches. This year, they’ve brought in nutrition coaches, sports psychologists and strength and conditioning specialists to run sessions.

“Athletes are getting high-level training that’s affordable in a Para sport context,” Ferguson says.

While the Steadward Centre continues to develop high-performance Para athletes and coaches, their programs have great benefits for athletes of all abilities. 

‘’Para sport programs like ours are an opportunity to get an appreciation for physical activity, learn the value of commitment and hard work,’’ says Ciesielski.  ‘’All those things anyone can learn from sport but there are just fewer opportunities in Para sport.

‘’That’s why we’re here.’’

Girl in a racing chair with her coach