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Alive and Well in Ottawa

The National Capital Visually Impaired Sports Association, NCVISA (no relation to the credit card company!), was founded in the mid 1990s as a small tandem cycling group, which expanded to include dragon boating. Today, some 15 years later, NCVISA offers a variety of fitness and recreational activities all year round.

Dragon boating is the only sport NCVISA practises competitively. Dynamic fundraising and excellent money management has allowed the club to purchase its own equipment, including a boat, and rentals to other dragon boat teams generate a small revenue. Every year, at the end of June, we enter the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, currently the largest of its kind in North America, where we join 200 other teams from all over the country. We are the only blind and partially sighted team, and very proud of our medal-winning performances. While our boating season is short--May and June--it is a lot of fun.

NCVISA has kept up with tandem cycling, and we have gradually added other activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, hiking and wall climbing. During the summer, we organize camping trips, and in the winter we now offer a weekly aerobics class. We have experimented with water polo and white water rafting, and are considering adding yoga and aqua fitness to our list.

When I moved to Ottawa in 2006, I found out about NCVISA through the CNIB, and the organizers welcomed me warmly. Belonging to this club has changed my life in a most positive way. Having lost my sight very recently, and not being a natural athlete, I was happy to find a club for the blind and partially sighted that was not training for national and international competitions, but still provided fitness opportunities in different settings. After a few months of involvement, I was asked to become the Vice President, a position I gladly accepted, and at our last Annual General Meeting I was elected President of the club. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to give back to the people who gave me so much.

Our Board of Directors has six members, five of us being blind or partially sighted. After much thought and lengthy consultation with our members, we decided to ask for some help from other organizations. For example, the club had no insurance due to the unaffordable cost of basic coverage, but the Canadian Council of the Blind offered to put us under their policy for $10 per person per year. And as one of the major issues facing blind people is transportation, we also asked the CNIB to share their volunteer drivers with us, and our local CNIB office gracefully accepted. A recent Canadian Human Rights Commission ruling in favour of accessibility also makes our activities more accessible to more people, in that it is now possible for customers of Paratranspo and STO (Societe des Transports de l'Outaouais), to travel within the greater Ottawa area including across the river in Quebec. NCVISA is also proud to have the support of our Ottawa AEBC Chapter.

Finally, NCVISA's Board actively established liaisons with several accessible community centres last winter. These new contacts put us in touch for the first time with certain segments of the population, such as parents of blind children and youth. We thank the Jack Purcell Community Centre for its support, and also congratulate the Dovercourt Recreation Centre for its "all abilities welcome" approach to fitness.

Our most senior member, who is 79, says, "In NCVISA, age is definitely just a state of mind. You have tons of fun, go at your own rhythm, and there are no losers."

For more information on NCVISA, visit the website of National Capital Sports Council of the Disabled at http://www.ncscd.ca/NCVISAPage.html.