Tuesday, 3 April 2018

An Outstanding Honour

I don't think there are many people in this country who haven't heard the name "Billy Bridges". The five-time Paralympian has been a mainstay on the international sledge hockey stage for Canada, and he's certainly one of the more recognizable names to most hockey fans. Billy has proudly worn the red-and-white multiple times between Olympiads as well, and his service to this country should have him in the same realm as Captain Canada Ryan Smyth. Tonight, Bridges received an incredible honour in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, some 60 kilometers away from his hometown of Summerside.

Bridges and biathlon paralympian Mark Arendz were in the PEI capital to receive a few honours, sign some autographs, and take pictures with fans as they were honoured by their home province for their Olympic performance, but the biggest honour came towards the end of the ceremony as the city of Summerside announced that they will build "a fully accessible park and playground" that will be named Billy Bridges Park while Brookvale Provincial Park will be renamed as Mark Arendz Provincial Ski Park!

The newly-announced park in Billy Bridges' name will feature a playground and park area that will leave no one on the sidelines regardless of mobility. For Bridges, this is more than just being honoured by his hometown.

"Now that I have a two year old daughter and I'm now starting to realize the difficulties that there are, with having a child, being in a wheelchair. And my daughter is rambunctious as ever and loves to run and jump and play, and I love following her around, but there's not many place that I can go do it," he told reporters after the announcement.

"To be able to have a park where I can wheel around with her and chase her around and play hide and seek and do all these things that I loved to do when I was a kid, it's pretty special."

Asper Google maps, this is the current playground pictured in June of 2013 that sits on the site of Notre Dame Park where the newly-founded Billy Bridges Park is being planned. As you can see, the accessibility of the play structure is virtually zero for some with mobility issues or someone in a wheelchair, so this new playground and park area that will allow everyone to play is a much-needed amenity for the community of Summerside.

"Up until this year the city has not had one single piece of accessible equipment," City Councillor Tyler DesRoches, chair of the community services and recreation committee, explained to the assembled crowd. "What it means for our residents is that no child will ever be left behind. They'll always be a place for them to play."

Summerside had been working to acquire accessible equipment for nearly two years, but money was finally allocated for the purchase of equipment just this year. With the help from the provincial government in the form of a 50/50 split on the building of Billy Bridges Park at a cost of approximately $80,000, the city and province are hoping to have the park "ready for an unveiling in July when Bridges is visiting Summerside with his family." If they do, that would be outstanding!

In having the privilege in getting to know Billy Bridges, I know that this honour means a great deal to him despite how humble he is. Billy has never asked to be treated differently, but having governments and communities work towards building and designing buildings and structures with greater accessibility is something that means a lot to him. We saw Bridges come to Winnipeg when they unveiled their first all-accessible toboggan slide this past winter, and this new park is another great initiative by the PEI and Summerside governments. In both cases, Billy can now do more with his daughter rather than watching from afar - something that hits home when you see him interacting with his baby girl.

I want to give Summerside and the PEI governments full kudos on these honours for two incredible athletes. It's one thing to be supportive, but it's a completely different level of support when governments open doors for athletes to inspire others to follow them. With these changes, the smallest province in Canada can probably claim that it has the biggest heart when it comes to honouring its decorated athletes and opening doors for all people from all walks of life.

Congratulations go to Billy Bridges as well. His hard work and dedication in spite of some of the barriers he's faced shows the heart of a true champion. This honour reflects those efforts, that dedication, and that relentless spirit. I just hope that everything will be ready in time for your July trip home so you can chase Kenzie around the playground like kids do!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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