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Despite not being a student, this gymnast and skier finds inclusive environment at U of O

Photo courtesy of Sophie Anne Lacourse

The University of Ottawa offers expansive sports recreation programs for all University of Ottawa students, however, the diverse selection of membership benefits sometimes attracts external visitors. Sophie Anne Lacourse recently began to use the services available at the U of O, and is a member of the Canadian Special Olympics team in rhythmic gymnastics and skiing.

The 18-year-old is working towards the Provincial-National-Worlds cycle of competition for rhythmic gymnastics, and is qualified for the Special Olympic National 2016 Winter Games that will take place in Newfoundland next March.

While she still practices at Ottawa Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, she finds it difficult to keep up with the strict regular training hours as she is faced with new obligations at work and school. A U of O student and fellow team member introduced the Gee-Gees recreation group fitness classes to Lacourse, and she quickly found interest in classes like Zumba and Piloxing.

“The instructors are great and I love the music, it’s a great workout! The best part is, I also get to use the gym to practice my routines.” said Lacourse. She was also happy to learn she can add some diversity to her workout with access to the swimming pool and fitness centres.

The frequent and diverse offering of group fitness sessions is convenient, and is structured in a way to suit a variety of levels and goals. This allows her to maintain and even gradually improve her fitness, as needed for the next Special Olympic World Games in 2019 where Lacourse hopes to compete in the highest level for the first time.

Catherine Zeiba is one of the group Piloxing instructors, and acted as a welcoming hand in Lacourse’s experience at classes held by the U of O.

“I try to teach my classes in a fun manner, keeping everyone engaged and really pushing them to their limits,” said Zieba, who is a fourth-year political science student at the U of O. “Everyone’s physical abilities range on different levels, therefore I try to adapt the difficulty of the workout to the students: if I notice that most students are really struggling, then I’ll suggest alternatives or a smaller number of reps.”

There is a small catch to using the various programs. The recreation team isn’t responsible for any changes or cancellations in the group fitness or gym availability, and unfortunately these are not uncommon. While the online calendar system attempts to solve this issue, the information is still sometimes missing or incorrect. During her first visit, Lacourse had intended to try the Zumba class, but ended up enjoying the Piloxing just as much.

Gee-Gees rec is promising a major improvement in providing correct information on the new calendar in the coming year. A representative from Gee-Gees rec said that “soon enough (within the week) we will also be putting out daily Instagram and Twitter schedules that will allow for updates on subs and cancellations.”

If anything, Lacourse’s experience with the U of O’s recreation programs have been nothing but helpful to her training. Fostering an inclusive environment for all members of the community on campus is important, and it seems to be paying off for at least one Special Olympics medal hopeful.

Non-student members of the community can sign up to use the University’s recreation services by paying for a monthly membership. More info can be found at geegees.ca/en/rec/memberships