Students from two area elementary schools converged on the WF Mitchell Athletics Centre on the University of Guelph campus on Tuesday to celebrate the Jumpstart Games in Guelph.
Willow Road and Brant Avenue public schools sent kids aged eight to 14 to the Canadian Tire-sponsored event, which offered a number of different speakers and activities, including track and field, dance, curling and parachute.
The Jumpstart Games travels from city to city to help kids become interested in sports and be active.
Eighteen-year-old Marissa Papaconstantinou, who participated in track and field events at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, showed off her running prowess to the students as a Jumpstart ambassador on Tuesday.
Participating in sports was more difficult for Papaconstantinou until age 12, when she received her running prosthesis — called a running blade.
"Before, it hurt to run. It was a struggle and I actually didn’t like running because it was so hard. Once I got this piece of equipment, it really changed my life because I was able to start to pursue track more,” said Papaconstantinou.
She recalls a little girl watching her run in the hallway at the hospital when she first received her blade so that adjustments could be made.
“She looked at her mom and said she wanted one just like mine when grows up. I think that was the moment I realized it’s not just about myself, it’s also about other people as well," said Papaconstantinou.
One year after receiving her prosthesis, Papaconstantinou was invited to a training camp held by Athletics Canada, where she broke the Canadian record for the 100m dash.
“That’s when I set a goal to compete in the Paralympics and by the time I was 16 I competed in Rio,” she said.
Canadian Tire's Jumpstart Charities seeks to help kids across Canada overcome the financial and accessibility barriers to sport and recreation, said Eric Cartlidge, Jumpstart regional manger for Central Ontario.
The program supports inclusive play, regardless of ability and participation in Jumpstart is always confidential, said Cartlidge.
"If you look at any kids soccer or hockey team, you can't tell who is funded by Jumpstart and who isn't," he said.
Also speaking with kids Tuesday was Olympian Alysha Newman, who holds the Canadian record in Pole Jump.
According to a press release from Jumpstart, the charity has disbursed $407,144 to help 3,788 in Guelph since 2005.
Papaconstantinou said the Jumpstart charities do a great job in getting more kids involved in sport.
Born an amputee, Papaconstantinou said being involved in sports has given her confidence and she has been able to make new friends along the way.
"I think that the main thing is showing kids that it’s okay to have fun. I doesn’t matter if you are a little different or you don’t feel like you fit in all the time. It’s okay to just have a good time and learn something new,” said Papaconstantinou.