For several years, visually impaired Montreal students have been helping each other persevere in sports thanks to an inspiring approach.

These young people attend the Philip E. Layton School (PEL), a specialized facility in Montreal where young athletes encourage each other to “move like the wind.”

Gowrish Subramaniam was one of these students. Before completing his primary education last year, he practised swimming, running and long jump at PEL.

Every year, when training for Défi sportif AlterGo, Gowrish, his classmates and their physical education teacher would push each other to “run like the wind”.

This student, who now attends Westmount High School, trained a long time for the 20-metre race with rope and the 50-metre race with guide.

“I had no idea you could use a rope to run,” says the young fan of traditional South East Asian music.

“My motivation when training for a race or when participating in the Défi Sportif is to reach my full potential, to run as fast as I can,” he adds.

Motto

For eight years now, PEL School has been participating in Montreal’s largest annual sporting event for athletes with functional limitations sending from 6 to 10 athletes who participate in the athletics and swimming events.

Last April, nearly a dozen of these athletes could be seen with t-shirts bearing the motto “Move like the wind”.

Peripheral to Défi sportif AlterGo, PEL awards prizes entitled “I move like” to reward students who perform movements during physical activities at school.

“Hitting your head or your face while running or walking when you have a visual impairment is traumatic. So being able to run without fear, alongside many other children, speaks to the concept of universal accessibility,” commented their physical education teacher, Jonathan Varghese.

Just like their peers

According to orientation and mobility specialist Ingrid Osswald, who helps PEL students, visually impaired children are generally less physically active and have poorer motor skills.

“There are fewer or less obvious opportunities to move and play sports,” she says. “These children are often overprotected, we don’t want anything to happen to them, and we have lower performance expectations from them. They may also find themselves socially isolated and excluded from peer activities. Their self-esteem may suffer.”

Yet, like all children, visually impaired children want to be active and develop their skills through movement activities.

They must therefore be introduced to these activities at a young age, be allowed to run like their peers and be included in all circumstances.

“They should be provided with opportunities to participate in adapted sports, overcome the barriers (financial, social, geographic or other) a family may encounter, and get mentors to share their stories and motivate these children,” says the expert.

 

On the picture: A young athlete from the Philip E. Layton School wearing a t-shirt that reads “Move like the wind,” running during an athletics event at the 2018 Défi sportif AlterGo at the Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard in Montreal.