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Sport & Exercise Science Students Get Their Horizons Widened About What It Means To Be An Athlete

On Tuesday September 1st, Ara Institute of Canterbury was host to speakers from ParaFed Canterbury and to Cody Everson, co-captain of the Wheel Blacks, who were invited to speak to students from the sport and exercise science specialisation within Ara’s Bachelor of Applied Science at the Madras campus.

ParaFed Canterbury is one of New Zealand’s most active and successful regional Para sports providers, and the organization, along with guest speakers Hadleigh Pierson and Ken Sowden, have had a long and mutually-beneficial association with Ara.

Photo credit: ParaFed Canterbury

Both Hadleigh and Ken spoke to the assembled students about the many activities of ParaFed, from providing Para sports programmes that offer participants a natural path towards the Paralympics, through to the provision of adaptive equipment and specialised sports wheelchairs. ParaFed also offers a range of non-sports-based services such as hydrotherapy pool sessions and childrens’ after-school programmes.

Cody then spoke movingly to the students about his own personal experiences as a tetraplegic and his journey, with the help of ParaFed, towards an international career as co-captain of the highly-regarded Wheel Blacks, New Zealand’s official wheelchair rugby team.

The ParaFed presentation, which served as a compelling introduction to the complexities of working with athletes with a disability, was enhanced by the opportunity for students to directly experience operating from within a wheelchair. Third-year Ara student Felicity Lowen, who is undertaking her second placement with ParaFed, ran a wheelchair skills session during which students were invited to play wheelchair basketball and rugby on Ara’s court space.

The ParaFed visit was part of a series of experiences that tutor Megan Harlick has been organizing with a view to increasing students’ exposure to the multiplicity of conditions, challenges and different mindsets that sportspeople can embody. The previous week, Megan had organized for Lawrence Tau from Sport Canterbury to visit Ara and interact with her Professional Practice students, in order to incorporate important Maori cultural values within Ara’s sport and physical activity curricula.

Megan says "Lawrence ran through some traditional Maori games and how they're used to tell stories. We've had a whole range of games including that are designed to teach basic strategy around war games. This is part of our re-documented degree and we've been trying to embed cultural learning and values all the way through. So bringing someone in like Lawrence is amazing; it really helps us to bring Ara’s Framework for Maori Achievement to life. Our students are really practical and this is how they learn; so everything they’re learning today through the stories that Lawrence is telling and the weaving of Maori values into the games means we know that they’ll remember it and then take it with them when they go out into practice.”

Megan and Felicity are both acutely aware of the need for students to be open to the full range of possibilities, practicalities and sensibilities within the sports and applied sciences industries.

Megan points out “You’ve got to be aware of so many things – if you’re working with athletes, you’ve got to look beyond the fact that they’re athletes; you’ve got to look at what else is going on.”

Felicity comments “I’ve found through my work with ParaFed that it's just such a huge thing. I've got kids of all with different disabilities that I coach, as well as able-bodied people, and the para-athletes have the highest level of dedication - they want to be there and they want to do it, and they want to take it as far as they can.”

Felicity hopes to make this kind of work her career path in the future, saying “I've volunteered with ParaFed and done my placements, and it’s so amazing working with people like Cody, and to be a part of these stories – actually, I get chills every time I watch the ParaFed video!”

These mutually-beneficial connections with relevant organizations is one reason why students completing the degree are able to access such meaningful work placements.

Ara offers a range of courses in Applied Science that open up careers in the lifestyle, nutrition or sports performance industries, and students can gain degrees in health promotion, nutrition and sport science through a mix of theory, practical and industry work experience.

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