A group of people sits in a circle with para-athlete and former rehab patient Becky Richter.

Becky Richter returns to share her experiences with wheelchair athletics and to mentor new patients undergoing the rehab process.

Becky Richter returns to share her experiences with wheelchair athletics and to mentor new patients undergoing the rehab process.

On this day, they’re talking about wheelchair racing and field sports like discus and club throw. It doesn’t look like rehabilitation, but the Bridging the Gap – Getting Physically Active program provides participants with both physical and psychological rehabilitation. Each Thursday afternoon, this group, which includes people who are in rehabilitation therapy and people who represent organizations that support them, comes to the Saskatoon City Hospital gymnasium for activities like wheelchair basketball, rugby, tennis or power wheelchair soccer. On this particular day, Richter is describing her light-weight racing chair and how she hopes to use it to compete in the summer Paralympics and the qualifying competitions. Bridging the Gap often includes former rehab patients who share their personal experiences of returning to an active lifestyle to patients currently in rehabilitation.

Mike Bacon, Saskatchewan Wheelchair Sports Association; Leanne Schellenberg, Bridging the Gap Coordinator; Kelly Palmer, Aboriginal Coordinator – Canadian Paraplegic Association; Luke Oseemeemow; and Lindsey Jack; participate in the Bridging the Gap program at Saskatoon City Hospital.

Mike Bacon, Saskatchewan Wheelchair Sports Association; Leanne Schellenberg, Bridging the Gap Coordinator; Kelly Palmer, Aboriginal Coordinator – Canadian Paraplegic Association; Luke Oseemeemow; and Lindsey Jack; participate in the Bridging the Gap program at Saskatoon City Hospital.

Recreation Therapist Sherri Nelson and former rehab patient Becky Richter facilitate an introductory wheelchair athletics session in the Saskatoon City Hospital gymnasium.

Recreation Therapist Sherri Nelson and former rehab patient Becky Richter facilitate an introductory wheelchair athletics session in the Saskatoon City Hospital gymnasium.

“It’s not about the race,” says Sherri Nelson, a recreation therapist who works with the Bridging the Gap group. “It’s about building confidence, reducing barriers and developing a support network that promotes a lifelong active lifestyle after people are discharged from hospital.” Not all the participants are new to wheelchairs. Some like Mike Bacon, former member of the Canadian Wheelchair rugby team and a representative of the Saskatchewan Wheelchair Sports Association which is the lead partner in Bridging the Gap, have been in a wheelchair since he was a teenager. Bacon takes a stab at the club throw. “Watch for the windows, Mike!” warns Nelson with a smile. Everyone laughs as the throw goes to the far wall.

This program is right in line with the philosophy behind recreation therapy that recreation and sport are catalysts for people to regain an active and invigorating lifestyle. February is Recreation Therapy Month. “Through sports and recreation, bodies can heal, people can bond and they can stay connected and integrated into the community,” says Nelson.