Blazing a New Trail in Para Sport

There is an unfortunate reality within the realm of para sport that athletes have to contend with – they don’t always have access to services from their National Sport Organization, either due to a lack of resources or too few athletes to invest in a dedicated program.

“In para alpine skiing for example, there are not enough athletes to develop a specific para alpine training group and program”, says Reid Bilben, Manager at the Alberta Sport Development Centre (ASDC). “This gap has left many para athletes from several sports on their own, without a place to train or team to train with.”

Fortunately, the CSI Calgary, in partnership with the ASDC, is looking to change this reality with an innovative new program geared towards para athletes of all ages from any sport. The Para Sport Training Program is launching this fall at the CSI Calgary and will focus on providing sport science services to para athletes.

The central idea behind the program is to bring para athletes from a variety of sports together to form training groups that will have access to high performance sport services from experts at the CSI Calgary. Bilben says that the intention is to fill a gap in the system for developing athletes. “We are trying to get more athletes who are the only one from their sport in a training region, into a training group with other para sport athletes.”

Tessa Gallinger is an Adaptive Strength Specialist at the CSI Calgary and will lead the new training groups. She says the main goal is to bridge that gap within the para-sport system. “There isn’t a lot of availability of sport science to athletes prior to reaching the high performance level,” she says. “Most of the athletes I work with are already carded and on the national team. We’re trying to get athletes into the stream sooner.”

Gallinger, who is also pursuing a master’s degree studying muscle physiology in athletes with cerebral palsy, says that they are looking to help athletes build the right foundation in strength and skill in order to help ensure they have long careers in para sport. “We want to get these athletes in the program when they are in between sports and haven’t specialized yet, but still need functional strength work and help with structural basics,” she says.

This dedicated support will help the athletes stay healthy and strong in their sport for a long time. “We want to see them go to more than one Paralympic Games. We want their careers to be long lived,” says Gallinger. In a sport environment where athletes enter the stream at a later age and peak in their 30s or 40s, this program will serve to help younger athletes get started on the high performance path at an earlier age.

In addition to having a place to train, training partners and sport science support, one of the key benefits for the athletes is simply being in an environment where excellence is the main pursuit. For Gallinger, it doesn’t matter how impaired or abled athletes are, they all have big goals and being exposed to others with similar attitudes and goals pushes everyone to be better. “There is a huge development piece to this program,” she says. “Athletes can see other athletes who are where they want to be, and can see what it takes to get there.”

The Para Sport Training Program fall session began last week, there is still room for participants. Winter session starts January 9, 2017. For more information on the program or to register, contact the ASDC office at 403-440-8668.

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto

Lasting Partnership Proves Successful for Michael Sametz

CSICalgary MikeSametz-1465Calgary's Michael Sametz is looking towards the 2016 Paralympic Games. After his recent breakthrough winning both the Time Trial and the Road Race at the National Championships in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the 18-year-old has every reason to be optimistic that he will be a part of the team representing Canada in Rio de Janeiro.

Sametz's success has been meaningful not only for himself as an athlete, but for his training program as a whole. As part of an identified talent group, Sametz, who is coached by Nick Jendzjowsky, is the first athlete to graduate on to the National Cycling Team. The timing could not be better, according to the program's founder Stephen Burke, who notes that the combination of funding and support from the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and Alberta Sport Development Centre (ASDC) "was a catalyst" to Sametz's success.

Burke's training group, the Calgary Cycling Centre based out of the Calgary Olympic Oval, is funded as a unique partnership between the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and the ASDC Calgary Region. Now entering into its fourth year, Sametz's success indicates that the system is beginning to flourish.

The partnership has combined the resources that each institution would have provided separately in order to create a program that is greater than the sum of its parts. Whereas typically the Canadian Sport Institute would be able to provide some sports science, nutrition, and sport psychology to athletes at the development level, when partnered with the ASDC's resources the programs have been able to increase the amount of support that the Calgary Cycling Centre's athletes receive in these areas.

Sametz is well aware of the benefits that the partnership program has created, believing that, "the funding and program set up access to the services like nutrition, anthro [sport science], and sport psychology. It has elevated my performance on and off the bike. Since meeting with [performance dietitian] Kelly Anne Erdman and [sport psychologist] Clare Fewster, the way I approach my training and racing has evolved."

Sametz's mother Ronda, could not agree more, saying, "The services Mike received and the relationships developed while at Calgary Cycling Centre were and continue to be extremely helpful in his cycling development."

The excitement surrounding the recent success of Sametz and the Calgary Cycling Centre is tangible. As Coach Burke proclaims, "Mike has a bright future," it is clear that the partnership between the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and the ASDC does as well.

Keep up to date with results from Michael and other cyclists by following the Canadian Sport Institute on Twitter and Facebook!

Stay in the loop!

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Brittany Schussler: @bschussler
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto

Madell Leads Parapan Am Games Team

The Canadian Sport Institute Calgary (CSIC) would like to congratulate all of the athletes who competed at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto from August 7-15, 2015. Team Canada finished second in the medal count with a total of 50 gold, 63 silver, and 55 bronze medals. CSIC athletes contributed to the team’s results in a big way, with Morgan Bird, Zachary McAllister, and Zach Madell winning gold medals, Jennifer Brown winning gold and silver, Michael Sametz, Kirstie Kasko, Chad Jassman, Peter Won, and Arinn Young earning silver medals, and Aron Ghebreyohannes, Tiana Knight, Blair Nesbitt, Tammy Cunnington, as well as the women’s and men’s sitting volleyball teams earning bronze medals.

Chosen to carry the Canadian flag and lead Team Canada into the closing ceremonies was 21-year-old wheelchair rugby athlete Zak Madell. He describes the atmosphere of competing at a home games as, “Better than I could ever have dreamt of. The fan support and energy of the city of Toronto were unbelievable. The announcement that I was carrying the flag was made to the whole rugby team just minutes after receiving our gold medals at the ceremonies, so the rush of emotions was truly overwhelming.”

A member of the CSIC since 2011, Madell believes that he utilizes the CSIC’s services to the fullest potential, working with “a Strength & Conditioning coach three times a week as well as accessing therapy for rehab and injury prevention whether it be acupuncture, ultrasound or massage to keep the body in tip-top shape.” Madell says he owes a lot of credit to “the CSIC for all of their support, as well as my personal sponsor Vesco Metal Craft for all of my wheelchairs and parts.”

Chris Osmond, Madell’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, is not shocked by Madell’s success. He describes working with him as a privilege, saying, “Zak is a tremendous athlete and person. He is passionate about his craft, extremely determined, and gives nothing less than 100% each time he trains or competes. He is kind, compassionate and strives to be the best person he can be on or off the gym floor.”

By accomplishing their goal of winning the Parapan Am gold medal, the wheelchair rugby team has qualified for the 2016 Paralympics. After already winning a silver medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games, Madell says, “Now that we have had a taste of gold we hope to keep this hunger moving forward and continue to bring home the bling!”

We look forward to watching the men’s rugby team in Rio next summer!

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Brittany Schussler: @BSchussler
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto

Matt Hallat is #PARATOUGH. Are You?

Vancouver-born Matt Hallat does not have your typical inspiring athlete story. His is more powerful.

After having his right leg amputated at age five due to Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, Hallat’s parents enrolled him in a ski program for people with a disability. His dad had skied as a child and, after digging his 20-year-old ski boots out of the closet, he put them on to take his son to the hill. The old boots promptly fell apart. Despite the setback, father and son found another pair and made it out to the ski hill. They loved every minute of it, and the rest is history. Hallat has become a decorated para-alpine skier, three-time Paralympian, and has a World Championship bronze medal to his credit.

Hallat has now become an ambassador of para-athletes. He will be supporting the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) onsite at their first ever athlete identification event, to be held on Saturday, November 14 at the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary. Paralympian Search is open to Canadians aged 14 to 35 with a physical disability or visual impairment, offering them the chance to test their physical capabilities and discover which Paralympic sport may be best suited to them. Participants will get to meet Hallat, see his medal, and hear his story.

Hallat says that the role of athlete ambassador is important to him because, “The road to becoming a Paralympian helped shape the person that I am today. It shaped where I lived, the people I met, the challenges I set out to overcome, and the goals I set within and outside of skiing. Setting the goal to become a Paralympian has impacted every aspect of my life to date and I am thankful for that. Getting to be a Paralympian was icing on the cake.”

Catherine Gosselin-Després, Executive Director, Sport for the CPC, says that Paralympian Search is an opportunity to reap the same benefits from sport that Hallat has experienced. She notes, “By testing people’s potential in various Paralympic sports, we are looking to identify a future generation of champions with the potential to win medals for Canada. Not everyone will end up going to the Paralympic Games, but everyone can enjoy the benefits of being placed in an appropriate sport programs tailored to develop and hopefully maximize their potential.”

For those who are thinking of taking part but are nervous about their abilities, Hallat is already giving out advice. He emphasizes that all participants should “simply enjoy the experience. The participant is in the driver’s seat. There is no telling where it may go, but the choice is theirs and the day should be a lot of fun.”

As registration is free, there is nothing to lose for potential participants. Every test will be adapted for each participant’s specific needs and they will be in control of how hard they push themselves. So, come out to Paralympian Search on November 14 and find out if you are #PARATOUGH.

For more information and to register, visit

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Brittany Schussler: @BSchussler
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto

Mike Sametz set to Compete in Rio

The 2016 Paralympic Games are set to set to run from September 7-18 in Rio de Janiero. Over four thousand athletes from more than 160 countries will compete in 526 medal events in 22 sports. The Canadian Team is comprised of 155 athletes competing in 19 sports. One of those Canadians is a young, up and coming cyclist from Calgary, Mike Sametz.

Sametz trains at CSI Calgary with head coach of the Para-Cycling Program Phil Abbott. In addition to training, Sametz also pursues an education in business and kinesiology at the University of Calgary. In his final preparations for the Paralympic Games he also trained at the 2015 Pan Am Games venue for track cycling track in Milton, Ontario.

Sametz started cycling seven years ago when some friends of his parents told them about the para cycling program at the Calgary Olympic Oval. From the very beginning, Sametz, who has cerebral palsy on the right side of his body, was integrated with able-bodied cyclists and competes regularly in both able-bodied and Paralympic competitions. “He’s a model for integrating para and able bodies athletes, which in the past was not always the way things were done,” says Abbott.

Usually quiet and mild-mannered off the bike, Sametz is fiercely competitive once racing starts. “His personality on the bike is completely different,” observes Abbott. “He’s very shy except when he’s racing. He likes to win and to be the best but doesn’t like the attention. Nobody would guess he’s super competitive.”

Sametz himself keeps his competitive drive alive through setting big goals. “When I first started cycling, my goal was always to go to Rio,” he says. “I’m a very dedicated person and when I find a goal I want to achieve I’ll do everything I can to achieve it.”

At 20 years old, Sametz is the youngest member of the para cycling team heading to Rio to compete for Team Canada at the 2016 Paralympic Games. He’s also younger than most of his competitors, who tend to range from 30-40 years old. His age however, has not held him back – to date his major accomplishments include a silver medal in the Individual Pursuit at the 2015 Parapan Am Games and a bronze medal in the Individual Time Trial at a 2016 World Cup in Belgium.

According to Abbott, Sametz is well poised to reach the podium in two of his four events. “If all the stars align he could get third in the Individual Pursuit and third in the Individual Time Trial. He’s definitely within striking distance,” says Abbott.

Sametz is more modest in his predictions, preferring to focus on what he needs to do to perform well in Rio. “The last three months I noticed myself getting better,” he says. “I’m going to try and do my very best in all my races. My competitors are not new to me. They are the same guys I’ve raced against at World Cups and World Championships. I know where I’ve placed before and want to improve on those placings.”

CSI Calgary is proud to support Team Canada Para athletes. Other CSI Calgary supported athletes to watch: Jenn Brown and Alister McQueen in para athletics; Ross Wilson para cycling; Morgan Bird, para swimming; Stefan Daniel, para triathlon; Chad Jassman and Arinn Young, wheelchair basketball; Zak Madell, wheelchair rugby; and athletes from the women’s sitting volleyball team Angelena Dolezar, Leanne Muldrew, Jennifer Oakes, Shacarra Orr, Heidi Peters, Tessa Popoff, Amber Skyrpan, and Katelyn Wright.

The Opening Ceremonies for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games kick off at 4:30pm MST Wednesday September 7, 2016.

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto

Small Changes Can Make Big Differences For Para Athletes

Working with para athletes requires more than just the knowledge of sport specific training and physiology, it demands a special creativity. Tessa Gallinger and Bryan Yu are two CSI Calgary Strength and Conditioning Coaches working with para athletes, adapting their training environment where necessary to meet individual requirements.

Pursuing her MSc., Gallinger is specializing in muscle length changes with sport-specific velocity training in young adults with cerebral palsy. Having worked with adaptive sports for almost six years, she stresses that keeping it simple is paramount to creating adaptive programming.

“Coaches working with para athletes need to have a good understanding of sport and the type of impairment they are working with, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.” Gallinger explains. “You don’t need fancy equipment, you just have to be creative in applying your knowledge and adapting it to meet individual needs.”

Yu adds, “There is a lot of thought that goes into making small changes. Coaches need to understand how the impairment affects athlete performance.” He finds training with smaller, diverse groups and developing organic solutions and adjustments is a welcome challenge. “I love the creative element required in adaptive programming – I have to be thinking outside the box.”

Pro Stergiou, CSI Calgary Biomechanist and Performance Analyst uses technology for the assessment of athletic performances in para sports. Over the years he has worked closely with goalball, para-swimming and sledge hockey. He enjoys working with para athletes and the wide range of adaptations that can be made to fit individual needs. “Working with para athletes is very rewarding,” says Stergiou. “With small changes in either training or technique, you can make big differences.”

Gallinger, Stergiou and Yu are hosting a workshop in the CSI Calgary on March 25 as part of the 2017 Adapted Physical Activity (APA) Symposium put on by Mount Royal University, The Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement and sponsored by the Alberta Sport Connection.

This third semi annual Symposium is a unique opportunity for stakeholders involved in sport and recreation for persons with disabilities to meet and share best practices, common challenges and ways to address them. “We are thrilled to have the CSI Calgary expertise for the Symposium,” says David Legg, Professor at Mount Royal University and Chair of the Organizing Committee. “CSI Calgary adds a significant level of knowledge as one of the leading international sport science institutes for Paralympic athletes. Delegates will have unique access to some of the most innovative thinkers in adaptive sports and will have the opportunity to see techniques being implemented up close with Paralympic athletes.”

What do the CSI specialists want workshop participants to come away with? They want people to understand that training para athletes doesn’t need to be flashy or complex. Working towards a high performance goal, the optimal training program takes into consideration individual requirements and makes as few adaptations to the program as possible.

For more information on the 2017 Adapted Physical Activity Symposium March 23 – 25

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Lisa Thomson
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto


Sometimes It Is About The Coach

Some of the best advice Phil Abbott, CSI Calgary cycling coach, ever got was, “don’t ever be in the photo with the athletes!” He took these words to heart, guiding his philosophy of creating an athlete-centric training environment that ensures he is not the center of attention when his athletes succeed.

“It’s about the athlete, not the coach,” says Abbott, also the head coach of the Alberta Bicycle Association. Except when it is about the coach – as it is with the Petro Canada Sport Leadership Awards gala, which recognizes Canada’s most dedicated, inspiring, and successful coaches.

Annually, award recipients are honoured for exemplifying the values and competencies of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) and for their influence in positively shaping the Canadian sport community.

At the recent awards held in Richmond, BC., Abbott won a Petro Canada Coaching Excellence Award for his work with Paralympic cyclist Mike Sametz, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games. These prestigious awards recognize coaches whose athletes have excelled at World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Special Olympics World Games.

Despite his humble approach, Abbott acknowledges that the honour is appreciated. “It feels pretty good to be recognized by your peers, to know that your work is noticed.”

Wrestling Canada coach Paul Ragusa, who helped propel CSI Calgary athlete Erica Wiebe to Olympic gold in Rio, was also recognized for his coaching success. “It feels great to win the award,” he says. “It’s a great honour. It’s something that you never think about until it happens.”

Over the years, Abbott and Ragusa have developed and honed their coaching skills with help from experts at the CSI Calgary. Both credit access to experts like exercise physiologists, nutritionists and strength trainers for expanding their knowledge and skills.

Ragusa says that the chance to work closely with experts from the CSI Calgary helped him to formulate and ask the right questions. “As a coach I’m always trying to find that edge and having access to these experts is really helpful,” he says.

For example, having access to an exercise physiologist helped him collect objective data, something he didn’t focus on before. Ragusa says, “having this data often backs up what I might be thinking intuitively. I’m a better coach now that I can see the data and understand what the rational is behind some of the work we are doing.”

Abbott’s experience is very similar. He credits the CSI Calgary with fostering access to a variety of experts. “Once I was in my new coaching role, a lot of opportunities opened up and I had the chance to work with physiologists and nutritionists. This really accelerated my development as a coach.”

It’s not just CSI Calgary service providers that have contributed to coach development, but also partnerships with other organizations that have allowed program integration. Abbot explains, “It is a unique situation where the CSI Calgary is integrated with the velodrome and the provincial cycling program – being able to manage that relationship continuity between all programs and entities is valuable, everything is aligned. This benefits me and my athletes.”

For Ragusa the partnership between Wrestling Canada and the CSI Calgary has been very positive, especially in terms of establishing an IST (Integrated Support Team). “The team is more consolidated now and together we build a formalized plan that ensures the things we are all working on match up. As a coach it has helped me in terms of leadership, bringing everyone together.”

Jason Sjostrom, Director of Coaching Services at CSI Calgary, adds, “We have strong partnerships and we are very proud of that. These coaching awards are an example of that strength.”

Despite being content to remain in the shadows of their athletes’ success, coaches like Abbott and Ragusa are inspiring and worthy of the honour they have earned. It’s nice to see that sometimes it is about the coach.

Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto

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