AS the beach ball whizzes through the air, destined for his unsuspecting head, his teammates screech “Wilson” in unison in a bid to gain his attention.
Responding to the call to action, Wilson waves his arms frantically, striking the inflatable ball and sending it soaring across the net and onto the opposition’s volleyball court, much to the delight of his teammates.
This is no ordinary game of volleyball — it’s the sport’s Paralympic seated cousin. And these are no ordinary players — many of whom, like legally blind Wilson, have either a physical disability or a learning difficulty.
Supported on this night at William Cook elementary school gym by a handful of volunteers and a volleyball coach, the Richmond Centre for Disability (RCD) members are having the time of their lives playing a sport they wouldn’t ordinarily have dreamed of.
It’s all part of an “accessible sports open gym” program, organized by RCD’s Dave Thomson, who revels in taking full part in the adapted activities, which include speed badminton and seven-a-side soccer.
“I was looking for another way to get exercise myself, as I have fatigue and joint issues,” said Thomson, RCD’s public education co-coordinator.
“I came across these adaptive sports and we then got the opportunity of the gym space, thanks to the City of Richmond and the school district.
“We very rarely have the opportunity for gym space and many of our members get very shut in and tend to spend a lot of time at a computer.
“They rarely get a chance to take part in sports and don’t get a chance to test their limitations.”
The program has been running off and on since October and runs parallel to an RCD dance exercise class in the same gym, with relatives of the sports participants taking part.
Despite the program still being in its infancy, Thomson can already see the benefits in some of RCD’s members, such as 32-year-old Errol Hui, who has learning challenges.
“There’s definitely been a big impact. Errol just had a kidney stone removed, but he was out there Monday night,” added Thomson.
“He was desperate to come because he has so much fun.
“And then there’s Wilson, who is legally blind. There have been significant improvements with his eye-to-hand coordination. He’s so positive now and never gives up.”
For Hui, it’s all about the fun.
“Sitting while playing is a lot more difficult, and I have to work a lot harder at this,” he said.
“But I don’t get a chance to play a lot of sport.
I have played ping-pong and football and sometimes go to the gym. This is way more fun.”
Joining in for the night and offering some expert guidance was volleyball coach Lisa Tam, who’s also the program and events manager at Sixpack Indoor Beach.
“Dave just called me and asked me to volunteer, and I was more than happy to help out,” said Tam.
“I used to work for Volleyball BC and I’ve been to a couple of seated volleyball clinics, so I know a bit about the sport.
“It’s a fun sport for anyone, not just for people with disabilities, although they seem to be getting a lot out of it.”
In the longer term, Thomson is hoping to attract more members to the program and run it right through until summer.
“If we can maybe get a team together we could play Sportability in Surrey; but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.
If you’re interested in becoming an RCD member, they have several options available.
Thomson pointed out that you don’t have to be disabled to be a member; you could get connected through school/studies, family/friend or corporate/private sector volunteering.
RCD offers guided tours of its facility every Friday by appointment at 1 p.m. Call 604-232-2404 and ask for Kathie, Dina or Dave.