Shane Esau and Tessa Gallinger did not set out to become the country's leading parasport exercise physiologist and strength and power para-specialist. They each had set out on traditional sport career paths at the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and fell into the relatively unchartered world of parasport science. Now, Esau and Gallinger are running programs for 32 athletes across 13 different sports. The athletes that they train are competing in spite of disabilities that include spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, amputation, and visual impairment, all with varying degrees of severity.
Esau and Gallinger firmly believe that the work of the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary is second to none in Canada. Operating under the mission to be a key contributor to Canada's world-leading Olympic and Paralympic podium performances, Esau credits the work of the Institute's leaders, Dale Henwood, Jason Poole, Rosemary Neil, and Dr. David Smith as being "instrumental in being able to have the program we do." By blurring the line that traditionally exists between able-bodied and parasports, these industry experts have allowed for the funding, time, and research necessary to improve the training systems needed to become world-leaders in the realm of parasports.
The program has already seen success, bringing home 6 medals from the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, and 5 medals from the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Much of that can be attributed to the work done by the dynamic combination of Esau and Gallinger, who are swift to mention the support contributed by their colleague Jared Fletcher, a PhD student in exercise physiology at the University of Calgary. The parasport program, run by the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary, aims to continue its growth with the implementation of a new practicum program focusing on Paralympic strength and conditioning at the University of Calgary.
Due to the enormous range in abilities, Gallinger and Esau's positions involve conducting extensive research into every individual athlete's health concerns before creating their training programs. Even athletes with the same difficulties are treated on a case-by-case basis, because no two athletes react exactly alike to intense training.
One of the biggest challenges that Gallinger has found facing para-athletes is their unfamiliarity with basic body movements. Because of their disabilities, athletes have often been limited in their ability to participate in physical education classes and recreational sports. As an example, Gallinger points out that before working with her, "a lot of athletes did not know how to skip. Once they learn, they excel." Esau has noticed also recognized this trend, saying, "The athletes are novices in terms of learning how to move their bodies even though they are great athletes."
Esau and Gallinger are undeniably big supporters of each other's work, and have mutual admiration for the passion that their athletes exhibit. The unwavering support from the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary, along with the University of Calgary and WinSport, has enabled the parasport program to continue to grow up until this point. With a goal of being the world-leading Paralympic team in the future, the team is continuing their research and specialization by building on the incredible foundation that has been set.
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Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Brittany Schussler: @bschussler
Photo by Dave Holland: @davehollandpics
Tessa Gallinger: @TessaGallinger
Shane Esau: @Parasport_sci