When she talks about her three children doing track and field, soccer or box lacrosse every week both at school and in their community, Jennifer Lyons-Cope sounds like an average mother.
As she goes on describing her busy athletic family schedule with a calm and poised voice while eating a snack under the eyes of her husband and son, Lyons-Cope moves onto the subject of values of respect and equality she tries teaching to twins Dylan and Devon, as well as Abbie.
This is why on a car ride back home, it was a normal thing for 13-year-old Dylan to ask his mom a certain question.
“We were going back home from church and Dylan asked me kind of out of nowhere if there was lacrosse for people in wheelchairs,” said Lyons-Cope. “I said I didn’t know and that I would look it up on the Internet the next day.”
Once the kids left for school the next morning, she spent a few hours researching online any information about wheelchair lacrosse, and found out there was nothing in Ontario and Canada.
The stay at home mom thought that once she told Dylan, it would satisfy his curiosity.
But it didn’t. The very shy Dylan had bigger plans and his family joined him in the making.
“When I told him there wasn’t any information about it either in Ontario and Canada, he asked me if we could do something to start it,” Lyons-Cope said, sitting with her son at Moxie’s Classic Grill. “I said sure. Why not.”
That decision turned into a passion for Lyons-Cope and her family.
She began the process by doing more research, spending numerous hours looking for and sending emails to everyone including the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association, Wheelchair Basketball Canada, Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario, all surrounding area lacrosse associations, and Walter Gretzky Arena located in Brantford where the Copes live.
In addition to her extensive contact work, she also created an Ontario Wheelchair Lacrosse Facebook page to get the word out there and get an idea of how many people would be interested in playing.
“My goal is to get enough people interested in forming a team, and we will just roll with it and we can make this dream of ours a reality,” said Lyons-Cope, who works part-time as a lunch supervisor at her children’s school.
“My vision is to make it as big as possible in our area, province and country, and see it growing to become a sport in the Paralympic games.”
Since the Copes embarked on this journey, it hasn’t been easy trying to make wheelchair lacrosse available in the province. For every movement forward, there seem to be three moves back.
“I found that some of the organizations were willing to help when it started,” Lyons-Cope said, pausing to think. “When I was contacting people, it always seemed that I was going around in circles.”
But giving up isn’t an option in the Copes’ book.
After a while, she was feeling it wasn’t going anywhere and decided to contact Ryan Baker, founder of wheelchair lacrosse in San Diego, California.
“He told me about the great news of him and his co-founder Bill Lundstrom coming in Brampton on June 10 for a celebrity demonstration game during the John McCauley Lacrosse tournament,” said Lyons-Cope. “It gave me more motivation to not give up, and that we can make this happen.”
Stan Cockerton, executive director of the Ontario Lacrosse Association attended the demonstration game and was amazed by the speed, roughness and skills required to play.
“It was very exciting to watch them rolling so fast, yell and be tough,” Cockerton said excitedly while showing a video of the game. “People were interested to watch and it was a nice atmosphere.”
The Ontario Lacrosse Association is fully supportive in including the sport of wheelchair lacrosse under its umbrella, and has asked Lyons-Cope to submit a proposal, currently under review.
To make their project successful, the Copes not only need collaboration with other organizations but also funding.
This might come through the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA), who submitted a request to Sport Canada last February to get start-up funding to develop a national wheelchair or sledge lacrosse program.
“We will be working in parallel with the CLA once they get their funding application approved, and with other organizations to develop the sport,” said Cockerton. “I can envision having something settled and working in two to five years.”
The Copes’ project is on its way to becoming a reality.
“This is pretty well our story. We have only been working on this for a few months, but I feel we have made awesome progress,” said Ms. Lyons-Cope.
The Copes’ mission, they say, will be accomplished only when wheelchair lacrosse becomes a recognized sport at the Paralympics.
Until then, they are sticking around.
By Claudia Larouche