The Kamloops Long Blades Speed Skating Club is expanding its programming this winter to give more local kids a chance to experience ice skating, regardless of ability.
Piloted last winter, the club will now be offering their Blade Buddies and Fast Friends programs for the entire upcoming season.
"The idea is that any kid can come and have an ice experience, whether they have a physical disability, emotional, mental... it's an inclusive program," says coach Sandi Vyse. "It might be a shy kid who needs his mom to come on the ice with him or it might be the ADHD kid, like me, who doesn't want to stand still and listen to big, long instructions; all of those kinds of things. What it will turn into will depend on what the needs are of the kids who join."
Bolstered by a $3,000 grant from the joint federal-provincial BC Sport Participation Program, the Long Blades will run these sessions all winter, in hopes of giving all kids a chance to get out on the McArthur Island Olympic ice.
"Blade Buddies is more about being on the ice with your friends," says Vyse. "Some kids may not even skate. It might be pushing your friend in a wheelchair or having a friend on a sled or they might just be in their boots and want to walk around. Or it might be a kid who really wants to skate but likes to play games and have fun. It's really broad."
"When they get to Fast Friends, it's more likely to be on speed skates. Fast Friends is more for the kids who can skate but want to move around more. They'll do more skating, but more game-based skating and things like that, rather than drills."
The loose structure was on full display last night, the first session of the new year, when coaches took the protective mats that line the sides and made a fort in the centre of the ice. With some of the preregistered skaters away for the week, both Blade Buddies and Fast Friends only had one kid on the ice for each session, giving coaches plenty of chances to work with each.
"Our little superhero from the video was almost teary last night when she had to stop skating and go home," says Vyse.
The Long Blades are hoping to get 10 to 12 kids in each program in their first year. There are no age restrictions for either program, they just want willing participants. Vyse notes that all coaches have gone through the National Coaching Certification Program; they've also gone through Canucks Autism Network training.
"It's just something that isn't there right now, so we're pretty excited about offering something new to kids who it's a good fit for," she says.
Blade Buddies and Fast Friends run (almost) every Thursday night from now until mid-March, from 4 to 4:45 p.m. and 4:45 to 5:30 p.m., respectively.
If you want to see if it's a good fit, you can try the first session for free. After that, the cost is $335 for the year. In terms of equipment, skaters just need their own helmet; skates can be provided.