"Sport," Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald says, "really sets you up for the rest of your life. You feel that you're a part of a team. It's all about feeling good about yourself. You find out where you fit in, and when you fall down, your teammates help pick you up and you're back in the game again."
So it was with great pride that McDonald was among a galaxy of legends from a wide spectrum of sports who attended a Toronto news conference to unveil an ambitious new program with far-reaching benefit for children who need it most. On Tuesday, Canadian Tire Corporation announced a $50 million commitment over five years to its Jumpstart Charities, with the goal of giving greater access to sport and play to Canadian children with disabilities.
The NHL had a high-profile presence at the launch, including Hall of Famers McDonald, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Darryl Sittler and former Toronto Maple Leafs stars Wendel Clark and Darcy Tucker.
Olympic and Paralympic champions from many sports also took part, including Cassie Campbell-Pascall, the Canadian women's hockey icon and three-time Olympic medalist, and Greg Westlake, a two-time Paralympic hockey medalist as Canada's captain.
Called the "Play Finds A Way" movement, the new Jumpstart program will provide funding across Canada for accessible playgrounds, infrastructure and programming to provide children with disabilities access to casual play and sport.
The program will work to build state-of-the-art, fully accessible "destination" playgrounds in each of Canada's 10 provinces and three territories. It will also ambitiously provide funds to retrofit existing parks, arenas and community centers across the country to remove physical barriers that prevent or limit the participation in sport by children with disabilities.
Since 2005, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities has helped more than 1.4 million children by providing $135 million-plus to help Canadian families overcome financial barriers to sport and play with funding for sport programming, equipment and transportation.
The Jumpstart program now has a broader scope, coming to the aid of children with disabilities who might never have had the opportunity to get onto a rink or a playing field.
In addition, Jumpstart announced that it will significantly expand its Parasport Jumpstart Fund, in collaboration with the Canadian Paralympic Committee. This fund will receive $5 million over the next five years to aid children with disabilities to take part in adapted and integrated sports and recreation programs by assisting with the costs of program registration, equipment and transportation.
The NHL has for a number of years supported and promoted various Jumpstart initiatives and charitable endeavors, with the retailer working hand-in-hand with Canadian-based NHL teams that have their own community programs.
The League also works with Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to support and bolster programs for those with physical and intellectual disabilities. In November, the NHL will present the five-division USA Sled Hockey Classic in Minneapolis, hosted by the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Hockey.
Speaking from Calgary on Thursday, 25 years to the day since he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, McDonald was effusive about his relationship with the Jumpstart Charities that over the past half-dozen years has taken him coast-to-coast in Canada and into the country's far north.
"To have so many disadvantaged kids off the sidelines because of Jumpstart, putting them back into the game, is absolutely fantastic," McDonald said. "I couldn't be prouder of being a part of it. And the new program's slogan, 'Play Finds A Way,' says it all.
"To see how far Jumpstart has come in 12 years, to see where it is today, and then to add $10 million per year for the next five years for 'Play Finds A Way,' is phenomenal. Rick Hansen (a Canadian wheelchair racing legend and inspirational trailblazer) probably said it best at the press conference when he talked about taking his girls to school and not being able to get out to the playground to see them play. That just sent shivers down everyone who realized, 'This has to change.' Good for Canadian Tire and their whole Jumpstart program to make sure that everyone can be involved."
Marco Di Buono, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities' associate vice president of programs and operations, said he looks forward to working with the NHL to further strengthen their relationship.
At the Dakota Community Centre in Winnipeg, where Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews learned to play hockey, Jumpstart will assist with the construction of a parahockey-accessible rink, only the third such facility in the country. It is hoped that the rink will help establish a global standard for the sport and encourage more participation in sled hockey.
Through its 1,800 retail stores, Canadian Tire also will work to bring affordable entry-level parahockey equipment into the market, something that currently is expensive and not widely available. Working with the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Jumpstart will continue to develop and promote inclusive and adaptive play at the grassroots level in many sports, including hockey.
McDonald can expect his phone to ring in the near future, Canadian Tire calling to ask for his further involvement in the new program that will make sport in Canada more accessible to children whose lives will be immeasurably enriched for the opportunity.
"When they call to ask me, 'Lanny, can you do this for us?'" McDonald said. "I'm in."
• Learn more at jumpstart.canadiantire.ca/playfindsaway