OTTAWA – For the first time, Canada will have co-chefs de mission for the Parapan American Games and the Paralympics Games. For those chefs – Karolina Wisniewska and Josh Vander Vies – this will give Canada an upper hand at Santiago 2023 and Paris 2024.
The decision to have two co-chefs was spearheaded by the Canadian Paralympic Athletes’ Council as it examined the long list of duties for Team Canada’s leadership role at a Games.
“That is where Josh and I are very well positioned as seasoned veterans of the sport system in every sense and to deal with whatever it is that comes towards Team Canada,” said Wisniewska. “There can be many distractions at a Games and our job is to shield those from the athletes.”
Having two chefs will be an advantage for Canada, said Vander Vies.
“This is so cool it is coming from the Athletes’ Council,” he said. “This is the athletes’ voice springing into action. I can’t wait to work with Karolina. We’ll be pushing and pulling each other and that’s where the advantage is.
“The other countries will be looking to Canada as leaders in this area.”
Canada’s co-chefs de mission bring a wealth of knowledge to the role as athletes and leaders.
“You have two people bringing diverse and very different lived experiences as Paralympians, as people who worked in sport, people who care deeply about Paralympic sport,” said Wisniewska, born with cerebral palsy. “We each have our own skill sets, our interests, and strengths and we’ll be able to use those and dispatch them to the advantage of Team Canada.”
Wisniewska, 46, is a three-time Paralympian and winner of eight Paralympic medals in Para alpine skiing. She won two silver medals at Nagano in 1998, two silver and two bronze medals in Salt Lake City in 2002, and two bronze at Vancouver 2010.
She is currently a manager for Game Plan. The Oxford University master’s graduate also worked 10 years at the Department of Canadian Heritage including Sport Canada. She was Canada’s assistant chef de mission at Beijing 2022.
“Everyone is part of Team Canada from the athletes, coaches, and support staff,” said Wisniewska, the first Paralympian inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 2007. “We are there to bring out amazing performances of our athletes. So for me the core of being chef is meeting the needs of the team.”
“We are two great minds, two great Paralympic bodies, two big beating proud Canadian hearts and we’re going to lead Team Canada,” she added about the co-chefs duo. “Josh and I are equally proud and are really there to support and do what needs to be done, and we’re just excited.”
Vander Vies, born without arms and legs, was one of Canada’s top international boccia players for many years. He made his Paralympic Games debut at Athens 2004, won a bronze medal in singles at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, and is a 2012 Paralympic bronze medallist in pairs with Marco Dispaltro.
The 38-year-old Vancouver lawyer was an active leader in the sporting world throughout his playing career and remains so today. He’s been a member of the International Boccia Committee, chaired the Canadian Paralympic Athletes’ Council, was a director and president of AthletesCAN, and the assistant chef de mission for the Canadian Paralympic Team at Tokyo 2020.
“My objectives for these Games are centered in pride,” he said. “I want to build an environment at Team Canada where there is sport pride, Canadian pride, and disability pride. I want to showcase how proud we are to be disabled and I want us to live our authentic selves.
“That is how we’re going to get incredible performances.”