Supporting Canadian Paralympians On-site at the Games – an interview with Catherine Gosselin-Després

December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities - a day we reflect on how we can ensure the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and ensure disability inclusion in our society. In researching #IDPD, I was reminded of a fascinating profile I read earlier this year during the Paralympic Games in Tokyo about Ottobock - a leading global supplier of prosthetics and orthotics. They are also a Worldwide Partner of the International Paralympic Committee. At every Paralympic Games since the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, Ottobock has offered a technical repair centre where any Paralympian can go for free wheelchair, prosthetic or other equipment repairs.

In Tokyo, the Ottobock Repair Center, located in the Paralympic Village, was over 700 square meters and had a team of 106 people. Ottobock brought 17,000 spare parts and 18 tons of machinery to Japan and handled between 80-90 repairs a day.

After marveling at the size and scale of the Ottobock Center, I wondered about other logistics, in addition to technical repairs, that the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) oversees to bring Team Canada to a Paralympic Games. So I connected with Catherine Gosselin-Després, the Executive Director of Sport at the CPC, to ask her.

PumpTalk: Thank you so much for talking with me, Catherine! Can you tell me a bit about your role at the CPC?

Catherine Gosselin-Després: As the Executive Director of Sport, I'm basically accountable for all of Team Canada on site. To bring them there and make sure that we're in good condition to compete. Anything to do with the Paralympic Village and with relations with our national sport organizations, which could include coaches, athletes, the support team, etc., would be under me.

Tokyo Hub CPC Support Team with the Agitos with the view on Tokyo Bay at Opening Ceremony
Tokyo Hub CPC Support Team with the Agitos with the view on Tokyo Bay at Opening Ceremony
Photo Credit: Catherine Gosselin-Després

PT: What are some of the logistic issues that you’re dealing with at the Paralympic Games?

CD: I have a great team that does day-to-day relations with the organizing committee and our National Sport organizations. If you’re a coach or an athlete and there was an issue with equipment or anything Games related, you’d work with my team to try to find a solution. But it’s not just equipment, right? We’re problem solvers. There could be an issue with transport to a venue, or even with flags. We do everything Games-related; we interact with the Games’ Organizing Committee and then pass on all the information and processes to the sport teams.

PT: What is coordinating transportation like?

CD: In most Paralympic sports there’s a lot of equipment. We need a lot of space on the plane. Wheelchair users have their daily chair but also have one or two competitive chairs. A typical athlete might have three to four pieces of luggage plus two or three extra pieces of equipment. And then once all the equipment arrives at the Games, we get it from the airport to the village and also each sport venues as required.

PT: You mentioned flags. I’ve always wondered how you accommodate the Opening and Closing Ceremony flag bearers’ different disabilities.

CD: That’s a great point. Ottobock actually has different assistive devices to help flag bearers, depending on the impairment. For example, Brent Lakatos who was the flag bearer in the Closing Ceremony in Tokyo went to the Ottobock Repair Center the day before the Closing Ceremony to get a holder affixed to his chair, which he could slide the flag into. The next day, he went back and they removed it.

Brent Lakatos, flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Brent Lakatos, flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

For Priscilla Gagné, our visually impaired Opening Ceremony flag bearer, Ottobock created a cross-body holder to support the flag while she was waiting. Then, when she marched out, she could easily take the flag out of the holder to carry it.

Priscilla Gagné, flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Priscilla Gagné, flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

PT: So Ottobock helps with more than repairs?

CD: Yes. Repairs. Assisting devices for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Honestly, they pretty much do anything we need. They are quite helpful. For example, our wheelchair rugby team needs welding all the time when they compete outside of the Games. So they will do on the spot repairs and source local service providers but in the Games they can go to the Ottobock Repair Center. If an athlete’s running leg or jumping leg breaks, they will go and get a better fit. Or even their daily prosthetic. Prosthetic users sometimes could have an infection around where they had the amputation and when they’re on it for a long time. Sometimes they just need an extra bit of cushioning or something more complex to be fixed. And in wheelchair racing, athletes will go in to get their gloves fixed as another example. Ottobock does a wide range of services. It’s really helpful to us as it saves my team from trying to find our own providers when we are onsite in Tokyo, or Beijing or Paris.

Zak Madell of Team Canada takes on the USA in the preliminary round of Wheelchair Rugby at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Zak Madell of Team Canada takes on the USA in the preliminary round of Wheelchair Rugby at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

PT: When you’re on site at a Paralympic Games, what else is your team responsible for?

CD: We set up the whole Canadian space in the Paralympic village; we have a health-clinic, a gym, a recovery area, a concierge, offices, meeting rooms – basically building a hotel for our Team from scratch. We take it over from the Canadian Olympic Committee and then we’ll make some adjustments for accessibility needs. It’s a pretty big operation. We get there, set it up for a month and then take it all down. It takes years of planning to set it up. Then we pack it all up again for the next Games. Anything we don’t need – clothes, furniture, food – we work with our cargo company to find local charities or other groups that we can donate the items to. We also support our teams with any sport technical information from the organizing committee that they may need for an optimal Games planning and execution.

PT: How did COVID impact your on-site operations?

CD: There were a lot of rules we needed to follow. We hired a hospital-grade disinfection company that went in ahead of our arrival and stayed during to support us daily. Then we had regular cleaners during the Games. And we had QR codes to track everyone who moved in and out of the space. If there was a case of COVID, we had our own tools to be able to do contact tracing. Normally we’d have a bunch of indoor lounges for people to relax and have a coffee. But in Tokyo, we had an outdoor patio – a big lounge area with umbrellas, coolers and misters. And TVs so they could watch the other competitions.

The patio at Canada House during the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games
The patio at Canada House during the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games
Photo Credit: Catherine Gosselin-Després

PT: In your experience as Executive Director of Sport for the CPC since 2013, what's been the most unusual experience at a Games?

CD: COVID really presented so many challenges. We went out strong on COVID management and safety measures. We were regularly assessing “Do we feel safe as a team?” If we do, how can we keep moving forward and give ourselves some flexibility? Every day we were tested which gave the whole team a bigger sense of safety and we also got used to all of the measures fairly well. So proud of everyone for this since we had no COVID Cases and no Close Contact from COVID.

Some of the Tokyo Hub CPC Support Team Member with Gold Medallist Greg Stewart (FACE 2017) from Athletics
Some of the Tokyo Hub CPC Support Team Member with Gold Medallist Greg Stewart (FACE 2017) from Athletics
Photo Credit: Catherine Gosselin-Després

I was hired for my sport expertise, not for my medical or epidemiology experience, so we were all on a real fast learning curve. I worked with our chief medical officer, Dr. Andy Marshall and we had to hire infectious disease control nurses to help support from behind. We regularly asked them for advice and sometimes what seemed like the simplest thing would take 10 extra steps. It really challenged us all to think creatively.

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Catherine, thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your stories and experiences about supporting Team Canada’s Paralympic athletes! I’m so excited for the Beijing Games and definitely have a new appreciation for everything that goes on behind the scenes.

To stay up to date with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and track their progress up to and in Beijing in March 2022, you can follow them on their Facebook and Instagram.

~Kate T.


Creating Space for Truth and Reconciliation through Art - Meet Jessey Pacho

In September, for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we introduced you to Keegan Starlight who created the first of six murals that Petro-Canada has commissioned across Canada by Indigenous artists. We’re delighted that the second mural in the series, titled ‘Our Children’ has been completed - located at our 117 Jarvis Street in Toronto. The mural was created by Jessey Pacho, aka Phade – a Black artist in Toronto, and his co-artist Indigenous artist (who has chosen to remain anonymous out of respect for their family). Jessey shared with us his and his co-artist’s approach to art and their vision for “Our Children”.

Jessey Pacho (aka Phade)
Jessey Pacho (aka Phade)

PumpTalk: Why is art an important form of storytelling?

Jessey Pacho: Art helps keep stories alive. Stories that have, in large part, been ignored or kept hidden from Canadian society. I partnered with an Indigenous artist on this project and it's important that we're able to have this mural exist in such a public and prominent place because it shows the world that these peoples, who have practically been erased from this country, are still here and are still a strong and valuable presence. It drives the conversation forward. Art is a very powerful tool in terms of storytelling.

PT: Jessey, what inspires your art?

JP: I started in an art form that is very niche and has many negative connotations associated with it. Now, being able to do my art in public spaces, and being more accepted by society at large in a medium that is still somewhat considered illegal, really inspires me.

Also, we as Black and Indigenous people are using our art to speak on issues that are important to us. So the opportunity to create in public space is what inspires the drive to create. In terms of the art itself, I enjoy playing with color and creating images that people, when they walk by, would just be mind-boggled and wonder “How did the artist create that?!”

PT: What is the story you're portraying in the mural?

JP: On this project I partnered with an indigenous artist who is also a second-generation residential school survivor – they have family that was directly impacted by the residential school system. This mural talks specifically about the moment that we're experiencing as a country in relation to residential schools and the discoveries of Indigenous children that attended these institutions.

In terms of imagery, there's a sunrise above a landmass – nowhere specifically but a representation of one of the many unceded territories in Canada. We chose this imagery so that when people walk by they see something that's bright and colourful, but then realize there's a deeper layer of conversation.

Some of the characters in the mural and the dress they're wearing are based on Haudenosaunee culture. Also, one of the characters is an Afro-Indigenous person; Afro-Indigenous people have existed all over the world for a very long time but they are largely ignored and not part of the conversation. By putting an Afro-Indigenous person on this wall, we pay homage to their existence in this country as well.

The lettering at the centre of our mural reads "Our Children" and is written in Cayuga. There's only 60 fluent speakers of the Cayuga language left in the world and that is a direct correlation to the residential schools existing. It's important to us to feature authentic aspects of Indigenous culture on this wall because it's not something that we're seeing a lot of in the public realm. These are important aspects of the history of this country that need to be brought to the forefront.

'Our Children' by Jessey Pacho (aka Phade) and an unnamed Indigenous co-producer
“Our Children" by Jessey Pacho (aka Phade) and an unnamed Indigenous co-producer

PT: What does reconciliation mean to you?

JP: Reconciliation is about taking action to do better for our Indigenous population. Every Canadian who benefits from this land has a responsibility to our Indigenous population. They are the original people of this country that we call home. As a nation it's important to acknowledge the experiences of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that we're doing the most we can to reduce the harm that Indigenous Peoples are experiencing due to our Canadian way of life. To create spaces in which Indigenous folks can feel welcome and safe.

PT: As an organization, Suncor (the proud parent company of Petro-Canada) is on a journey of reconciliation. How can art contribute to healing and reconciliation? And what else can businesses like Petro-Canada do to support healing and reconciliation across Canada?

JP: Art keeps these stories alive and keeps the experiences of the people affected by these atrocities at the forefront of conversation. It also creates opportunities. Petro-Canada is creating an opportunity for a Black artist and an Indigenous artist to share their stories in a prominent public space.

Partnering with Petro-Canada in this way shows others within the industry that there's an appropriate way of working with Indigenous communities. Businesses like Petro-Canada can take further actions that support healing and reconciliation by knowing where their investments go and ensure they aren't being funneled into projects that negatively affect Indigenous folks living on unceded territories.

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A big thank you to Jessey and his Indigenous co-artist for creating this mural and sharing their vision for reconciliation; for more art, you can check out Jessey’s Instagram!

Over the next few months we’ll be introducing our other mural artists and revealing their creations. Stay tuned to our Instagram for sneak peeks of their work.

~Kate T.


Honouring Remembrance Day with Yvette Yong - FACE Athlete, Olympian and Naval Reservist

Each Remembrance Day, we share stories on PumpTalk from the Petro-Canada family that honour those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces and highlight the positive impact that their service has had. This year, I was delighted to speak with Sailor 2nd Class Yvette Yong. Yvette joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 2010 as a reservist. She currently holds the role of Naval Communicator at HMCS York in Toronto.

Yvette is also a world-class taekwondo athlete. She’s won numerous medals at international competitions including the Military World Games, the Military World Championships, the Commonwealth Championships, the World Championships, and the Pan American Championships; she is currently ranked #1 in the world in her weight class. Earlier this year, Yvette competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Finally, Yvette is a Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE ™) grant recipient (2007).

Yvette competing in Taekwondo in the CISM Military World Games
Yvette competing in Taekwondo in the CISM Military World Games

PumpTalk: Thank you for sharing your experiences with our readers! To start, can you tell me a bit about your military background?

Yvette: My military career actually started through my taekwondo career. I’ve been competing in taekwondo since I was 9 years old – so over twenty years. The military has a national taekwondo team. At a match in 2010, someone from the military saw me compete and spoke to my mom about opportunities, including sport, through the military. We learned that joining the military isn’t really about going to war. It's about giving back to Canada, not about being on the front lines.

I thought the Navy would be a good match - largely because I grew up and went to university in Vancouver. And I really wanted to give back to a country that welcomed my parents as immigrants.

Sailor 2nd Class, Yvette Yong
Sailor 2nd Class, Yvette Yong

Once I joined, I took an aptitude test to see what I’d be good at. That turned out to be naval communications.

Naval communications manages the external voice – getting the tactical information and support to our different operations. You get to see everything that happening, all information coming in and out.

PT: What has been one of the best or most surprising moments about your military career?

Yvette: The best moment is actually a combination of sports and military. In 2018, the International Military Sports Council (CISM) named me the International Military Female Athlete of the Year. It was the first time that a Canadian military member had been chosen as a CISM athlete of the year. I was really honoured and proud to be chosen; this award recognizes fair play, personal empathy and discipline. It really brought my two worlds of sport and military together.

CISM’s motto is “Friendship through Sport” and when you compete at CISM events, you really can forget everything that is going on in the world. Friendship through sport is what I truly believe in. I feel like I can be a role model through being a member of the forces as well as being an athlete.

Yvette receiving a medal at the CISM Military World Games
Yvette receiving a medal at the CISM Military World Games

PT: How has being in the military influenced your competition style or routine?

Yvette: My job in the navy, being in the communications control room, requires me to be alert at all times. I have to be able to make decisions on the spot and with urgency. I need to be able to communicate clearly under pressure. This is similar to a taekwondo match – to think on your feet and react right away. The military really taught me those skills.

PT: Do you have a particular routine on Remembrance Day?

Yvette: On Remembrance Day we have a formal parade – usually at City Hall – and we have a moment of silence to honour the soldiers who fought for our country, for the soldiers who are serving now, and for all the people who provide our freedom, our safety and our peace of mind.

PT: What do you think is important for Canadians to know about serving in the military or about the Canadian Armed Forces?

Yvette: Being in the military isn’t necessarily about going to war. We are trained to do so many things – to be ready and provide humanitarian support wherever we’re needed. Firefighting. Flood control. Refuge support. A couple of years ago, I was on a search and rescue mission off the coast of Vancouver Island near where a lot of forest fires were happening. We cruised up and down the coast, listening to calls and being ready to evacuate or help in any way we could. Being in the Canadian Armed Forces is about so much more than being on the front line. You have an opportunity to learn and to use your skills to serve your country in so many different ways.

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Thank you so much, Yvette, for sharing your story about your military and taekwondo careers to date. We look forward to hearing about your continued success.

If you’d like to follow Yvette’s competitions, you can check out her Instagram and her Facebook page.

~ Kate T.