Just as wheelchair sports would not exist in Prince George without the Harris family, Victoria owes a similar debt to the Gardner family. For over 20 years, the Gardner family, (Lynn, Ron and their children Kevin and Karen), worked to ensure that athletes from Vancouver Island were able to compete at the same level as those on the mainland. Whether serving on a board of directors or just making sure that a local athlete got a hot meal or a ride to practice, the Gardner family made the Victoria wheelchair sports community better.
Lynn Gardner began volunteering in the late 1970s when her son Kevin became involved in wheelchair sports at age 9. She served as an assistant manager or manager at several competitions, including 10 BC Games, and even took a team from Victoria to a competition in Morioka, Japan. Lynn was also an executive member of the Victoria Wheelchair Sports Association for 20 years and a board member of the BC Wheelchair Sports Association for several years.
Her son Kevin continued her volunteering legacy. Not only did he compete at a high level in wheelchair basketball and racing -- including participating in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul in the 500m and 10000m -- but he has also served as the co-commissioner of the BC Wheelchair Basketball League, the chairperson of the Victoria Wheelchair Sports Association, and a member of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association's Athletics Committee. Kevin was also the long-time player-coach of Victoria's wheelchair basketball team and coached several teams at BC Games.
We interviewed both Kevin and Lynn to find out how wheelchair sports impacted their family:
1. How and when did you get involved in wheelchair sports?
Lynn: We got involved with wheelchair sports when Kevin was 9 after being introduced to it by Linda Hunt, who was also a Sidney resident.
Kevin: My first competition was (I think) swimming in the 1977 BC Games for the Physically Disabled. I was starting to get involved with some wheelchair sports in Victoria by that time, although for quite a few years my favourite sport was playing road hockey with my friends in the neighbourhood.
2. Why did you decide to get involved in wheelchair sports to the extent that you did?
Lynn: Kevin was interested, so we all followed along as a family doing whatever we needed to do to help. As the years went by, I got more involved with our Victoria group and then with BC Wheelchair Sports. Our first trip as a family was to Spokane with other Victoria athletes and it just continued from there. We put many miles on our vehicles over the years to make sure that Kevin and others got to all our local activities.
Kevin: I kept playing sports just because I kept having fun trying new sports, traveling and meeting people. Competing at multi-sport events like the BC Games exposed me to basketball, tennis and racing and I competed in all of these for quite a few years. After the basketball nationals in 1987 I decided to focus on racing to try to get to the 1988 Paralympics.
3. How has being involved in wheelchair sports impacted your family?
Lynn: All our family was involved in many activities, but many were just Kevin and I. Wheelchair sports becomes like a big family once you are involved no matter where you are from. It really was a big part of my life for many years.
Kevin: My family spent a great deal of time around competitions, even camping near where the BC Games were being held in the summer. Until I was old enough to drive, my mom was in the car a lot driving me to wherever sports were being played. My mom's involvement lead to her own volunteering career as a team manager/ official. All of us have met great people and made a lot of friends through wheelchair sports.
4. How has the wheelchair sports community changed since you've been involved?
Lynn: Wheelchair sports has grown so much since I first started. It has expanded to include so many sports and opportunities for so many people. There is no doubt that this a result of the leadership of our Executive Director Kathy Newman and the staff and board members she has put together over the years. Thank you Kathy, staff and board for all the years of dedication to the athletes, which is what BCWSA is all about.
Kevin: There is more of everything: more opportunities in sports in more parts of the province and much better awareness of what's available. When I got involved, people were just beginning to play tennis and racquetball and no one was skiing or playing sledge hockey. Most people had never seen a wheelchair sport unless they knew someone who was involved or the demo team had come to their school.
5. What is your wheelchair sport highlight from the past 40 years?
Lynn: It is hard for me to pick one highlight, since every competition has its great memories. For me personally, the race that was most exciting involved Kevin at the track trials in Edmonton where he, Paul Clark and Dan Wesley qualified for the Olympic trials in Belgium in 1987. As a family, our involvement with Richard and Marni's family has been a highlight for us. It was a privilege for us to be included in several honourings for them in Duncan. The people I met through all the years of involvement are really what make being involved with BCWSA such a great memory.
Kevin: Qualifying for the trials (held in Brussels) for the 1988 Seoul Olympic wheelchair 1500m demonstration event. To get to the trials, I had to finish in the top four in a qualifying race held at the 1988 Canadian nationals in Edmonton. Over the last 200 meters of that race I went from last place to fourth, passing everyone except Andre Viger, Dan Wesley and Paul Clark.
Thank you to the Gardners for their years of service to the BC wheelchair sports community. Below is a photo slideshow of the Gardners in action: