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Former paralympian connects community to TORONTO 2015 Games

Posted on Monday, January 13, 2014

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Giselle Cole, Chair of the Caribbean Working Group Committee of the Community Engagement Council, TORONTO 2015
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By Neil Armstrong


Ontario will host the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games and Giselle Cole, chair of the Caribbean Working Group Committee of the Community Engagement Council, says it is an exciting time for her personally, as a former paralympian, and an exciting time for the city of Toronto.


The Pan Am Games will take place from July 10 to 26 and the Parapan Am Games from August 7 to 14, 2015.


The TO2015 Community Engagement Council (CEC) is a collection of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences who share their networks, knowledge, expertise and perspective of working and engaging communities across the region.


In their role as community connectors, conveners and catalysts, the CEC helps build new networks by engaging multiple stakeholders to work towards achieving social legacies for the Games and beyond.


“What we’re having tasked with doing is bringing the Games to our community and raising the level of awareness and excitement. There are opportunities for employment, opportunities for volunteerism. It’s an opportunity to introduce our young people to some sports that they don’t necessarily know about and get to see, on a very personal level, top notch world class athletes,” said Cole who competed nationally in track and field and swimming.


Cole was born in Trinidad and Tobago but grew up in Canada where she participated in sports at various levels.


During the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games in the Netherlands, she won three gold medals in track and field.


“With the cockiness of youth, I did not realize just how emotional I was going to be but it is surely one of the times in a person’s life when they’ve worked very hard for something, to be part of something bigger than yourself but also to help your team to represent your country. It’s really quite a significantly moving experience. It was one of the highlights of my life,” said Cole about the 1980 Games.


She said anyone who gets a chance to compete in the Games is truly blessed.


Cole has seen the Games grow and expand and is really excited about the opportunity as a former athlete and a member of the community to be able to see how “we in Toronto are going to build upon a fabulous experience for not only the athletes from the world that are coming to us from the Pan Americas but also to the spectators here in Toronto and the volunteers. We can’t do these things without the volunteers.”


Members of the CEC use their valuable leadership skills to ensure TO2015’s community outreach efforts develop relationships and initiatives that provide avenues for how individuals, families, neighbourhoods, businesses and communities enjoy and participate in the TORONTO 2015 Games.


In April, there will be a major call for volunteers – one of the biggest calls for volunteers – for an international event in Canada. Organizers hope to attract 20,000 volunteers who are considered the face of the Games here.


To engage the Caribbean community here, the Caribbean Working Group Committee will be talking with the consuls general of all the Caribbean countries, meeting with them and hosting meetings with business leaders in the Caribbean community.


Cole said the TO2015 community tour has been going to activities that involve the Caribbean community such as sports and non-sports events like brunches, dances, dinners and galas celebrating achievements in the community.


“We’ve had a presence there, spreading the word and encouraging people to listen and keep in the back of their mind that 2015 is going to be closer than they think,” she said.


With regard to social legacy, Cole is hoping to see that people come to Toronto and will “see how we operate on a very incredible level of raising community. We’re all about being inclusive and we’re all about recognizing and respecting people’s diversities and challenges — be they physical — or newcomers to the country. We’re all about fostering that spirit.”


Cole wants to show the world that “we’re friendly and welcoming, we’re inclusive, we’re accessible and we’re a happening place to be with culture and sports.”


She said there are venues that have been refurbished and brought up to new standards of accessibility and new venues have been built that are moving forward in terms of having a real accessible city for everyone, “so that people can participate, whatever their level of ability. They can participate in daily life in a very positive manner.”


 Cole served as a board member then vice-president of ARCH, a legal resource centre for persons with disabilities.


In 1981—the International Year of Disabled Persons—she was an information officer with the provincial government.


She has also sat on numerous committees that made deputations to various levels of government on the effects of amalgamating the City of Toronto.


For five years, Cole was the president and treasurer of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, and has sat on the board of UNITH, an international thalidomide organization.


She is currently treasurer for the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ontario.


Having lived in Toronto for almost 50 years, Cole says as a representative of the association, a former athlete and as a person of Caribbean descent, it has been a real pleasure to see what TO2015 is doing for the city, for the people of the city and for the athletes and future athletes.


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