Chef de Mission from 27 National Paralympic Committees were in Toronto, Canada, last week (28-31 October) for the final major preparation meeting ahead of the 2015 Parapan American Games which will take place between 7-15 August.
During four days of meetings, the Chefs de Mission - who are in charge of their country's team for the Games - saw where athletes will compete and live next year when they participate in the biggest ever Parapan American Games.
Around 1,600 athletes from 28 countries will compete in 15 sports next August, and all will be qualifiers for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
As part of the meeting, Chefs de Mission were given access to sport equipment - including specialised wheelchairs designed to take punishing hits in basketball skirmishes and highly sought after goalball equipment - at a special marketplace set up for them by the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games Organising Committee (TO2015) at the Sheraton Centre Toronto.
"Our athletes are beyond excited to come and compete in Toronto, but the 2015 Parapan American Games are about more than what happens next August," said Siomara Olmedo, Chef de Mission for the Ecuador team at the TORONTO 2015 Games.
"Thanks to Canada, I'm taking home athletics, boccia, table tennis, football 5-a-side and goalball equipment from the marketplace, which will help engage young people with disabilities in Ecuador to get involved in sport and their communities. It will make a huge difference in their lives."
The sport equipment chosen by the Chefs de Mission will now be shipped as far away as Chile and to Caribbean island nations with the support of Schenker of Canada, the Official Logistics Supplier of the TORONTO 2015 Games. Part of a global enterprise, DB Schenker has extensive experience in the provision of logistics services for the International Paralympic Committee.
"The TORONTO 2015 Parapan Am Games are set to make history on a number of fronts," said Saäd Rafi, Chief Executive Officer of TO2015. "Not only will they be the largest Parapan Am broadcast ever in Canada, these Games will leave a legacy in the Americas through a number of innovative programmes, such as our Sport Equipment Fund and our coaching programmes.
"Together, with our Canadian and international partners, we are working to spread the Paralympic Movement and encourage people of all ages and abilities to be healthy and active," he added.
The history-making Games firsts, include:
NPC support grant: For the first time in the history of the Parapan American Games, each participating NPC will receive a support grant to contribute towards their travel costs for attending the Games in Canada.
TO2015 Parapan American Development Programme: This programme is helping NPCs in 28 countries and territories build their expertise in sport management; strengthen coaching in athletics, goalball and swimming; develop national and international classifiers for physically and visually impaired athletes; and facilitating access to specialised sport equipment.
The four-day NPC Chefs de Mission Seminar follows on the heels of the third meeting of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and Americas Paralympic Committee (APC) Co-ordination Commission for the Games, which oversees and inspects all preparations for the Games.
"We continue to be impressed by the preparations for the TORONTO 2015 Parapan Am Games and the efforts by Canada to create a real legacy from these Games that benefits the entire region of the Americas," said APC President Jose Luis Campo.
"We're especially pleased with the decision by the Province of Ontario to fund the increase in live coverage for broadcast," he continued. "To grow para-sport throughout the world, we need to ensure the incredible athletic achievements of our athletes reach as many people as possible. Their abilities and stories will then encourage others to follow in their paths."
Michael Coteau, Minister Responsible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, said: "The 2015 Parapan Am Games will help Ontario stand out as a true leader on accessibility. Whether it's providing unprecedented live para-sport coverage, donating high-calibre sporting equipment or ensuring a barrier-free environment for residents, athletes and visitors, we're building a legacy all Ontarians can be proud of.
"We look forward to welcoming para-athletes and team officials from across the Americas next summer as we celebrate the most accessible Games ever."
The 15 sports that will be included in the Parapan American Games are: archery, athletics, boccia, cycling, football 5-a-side, football 7-a-side, goalball, judo, powerlifiting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.
For more information about the Games, please visit TORONTO2015.org.