VANCOUVER - When Elisabeth Walker-Young was contacted last month for the investment for the Member of the Order of Canada at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, she enquired whether her four-year-old daughter Isla could attend.
Such a unique ceremony is something the youngster might always remember but would governor general officials be keen on a young child in such a strict environment. The answer from the GG office was that Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, felt it was very important for children to witness such important moments in history and Walker-Young was more than encouraged to bring her daughter.
That added a special touch for Walker-Young as she and 36 others were named to the Order of Canada in a ceremony held on September 5. Along with her daughter, Walker-Young was accompanied by her twin sister Rebekah and her husband Ian Young.
‘’We explained to Isla all about the Governor-General and the award and she was on her best behaviour,’’ said Walker-Young. ‘’Madame Payette even took the time to have a conversation with Isla. Our governor general is a remarkable woman and so authentic, it was very special.’’
Both on and off the playing field, Walker-Young has forged a path for Para athletes, people with a disability and for women in sport. As a Para swimmer she won six medals over four Paralympic Games (1992 to 2004) and was a 13-year national team member.
‘’My career all stems down from life as a swimmer,’’ she said. ‘’ If I had not been introduced to Paralympic sport, I wouldn’t have become the disability advocate that I am today.’’
In 2015 she was Canada’s Chef de Mission at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto. Just three years earlier, she was assistant Chef at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. She was also part of the organizing committee for the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2010.
With Vancouver 2010, Walker-Young managed all the classifications for Paralympic sport and the position was definitely an eye opener for her.
‘’I saw a lot of Olympians in the leadership roles,’’ she said. ‘’I was the only Paralympian on staff there. I thought Canada needs to do this at the Paralympic level so that is when I got involved with London 2012 which led to the Chef de Mission position with Toronto 2015. I’m proud to say since then, athletes have taken on the Chef roles at every Games since.’’
After retiring from competition, Walker-Young took on managerial roles with ParaSport Ontario, Curl BC before Vancouver 2010. Most recently she was Manager of Inclusion with viaSport BC which led to her current position as manager of programs with the Canucks Autism Network in Vancouver.
‘’When I talk about sports it gets my blood pumping,’’ she said. ‘’It gave me so much. I had actually thought I was going to pursue a career in health services. But in university every independent paper I wrote always related back to sport and the wellness, health, inclusion. That advocacy part of me was always coming out in school because I was the only one with a disability.’’
At 42, Walker-Young is in the prime of her career.
‘’I’m with an amazing team with a lot of expertise helping our sports groups in B.C. build their knowledge around autism and invisible disabilities and to be able to include those in their programs.
‘’There is still so much on my to-do list.’’