Five children who attend Holland Bloorview's Play and Learn nursery school are participating with their moms in an adapted kids' version of a Toronto triathlon called Family, Fun, Fit on June 1.
The idea came from Andrea Haefale, a phys-ed teacher and marathon runner whose daughter Bella, 4 (above), has developmental delay and autism.
The kids' triathlon is a 15-minute event that begins in the wading pool, moves to adapted trikes, and then walking or wheeling in wheelchairs.
It's a bold step for a mom who used to hold her daughter back from public places.
"I wasn't so open about my daughter a year ago," Andrea says. "I wasn't confident to bring her to a place like the Science Centre or zoo. I was worried people would be asking: 'Why doesn't she walk? Why doesn't she talk? Why is she still drooling?'"
Andrea says that after her daughter's diagnosis she had little contact with other parents of kids with disabilities. "We were alone. Then when I brought her to Play and Learn and met the other parents there, it was like 'Wow, I'm normal. I have problems and some of these people share the same problems I do.'"
Andrea says that talking with other moms in the hallway, going for coffee while their kids are at preschool, participating in Play and Learn parent discussions and having playdates has been "almost like a support group for us. Meeting other moms really helped me be able to come to an acceptance that hey, there are a lot of other people living the same life that I do. And these moms want their children to participate in things other kids do. We want to bring awareness to other parents."
Andrea says the acceptance she's found at Play and Learn has extended to other parts of her life. "This is the first year where I'm able to talk about my daughter openly with my colleagues and friends, and have the confidence to go out, too. I used to be so embarrassed because Bella drools profoundly and still wears a bib. But now if someone asks me about it I can say: 'Yea, she drools a lot.'"
Andrea says she's no longer cautious about letting Bella try new things. "I want to introduce her to as many activities as are out there. I want to give her an opportunity to try it, and if she doesn't like it, we've tried our best."
Andrea received a flyer about the triathlon and contacted the organizer to find out if they could adapt the event for children like Bella. This will be the first year children with special needs participate, she says. "All these people are willing to have us be integrated into this race successfully, and for our kids to be active."