Guest Post: I Tri’d, I Duo, and we THANK YOU! by Andrea Haefele

You’ll remember back in April when I gratefully opened my blog to the writing of my friend Andrea Haefele who shared her story of her daughter Bella and their life with autism (read the blog post here).  Bella would soon be competing in a du-athlon and her family had submitted a video in the FilmPossible Film Festival.Here is an update from Andrea.

Thank you to our good friends Heather and Royan for sharing their personal blogs with us. Through social media, we were able to share our family’s journey with special needs. Over 1000 people have read our story and have shared it with their own family and friends.

We were astounded by the number of views of Bella’s video, created by the very talented Jesse MacNevin. With his talent for photography and videography, he was able to capture the joy and spirit of our beautiful Bella. With your continuous daily support, Bella’s video finished #1 with the top number of votes and comments in the Bloorview Filmpossible contest, making her a top 10 finalist placing 4th overall.

filmpossibleEven though we did not win the contest, we have triumphed in the positive feedback, shared stories, and new contacts that we have made by sharing a glimpse of our lives. For the past 5 years, my husband and I have been on a difficult journey. First with wondering whether our baby was developing ‘normally’, then in testing to obtain a diagnosis for Bella, processing the fact that she was developmentally delayed and on the severe spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorder, figuring out the best tools and therapies for her to achieve the best of her potential, and accepting our daughter for everything that she is. Needless to say, it has been toiling, both emotionally and physically, as well as incredibly rewarding to witness each step that she has taken. No one knows what the future will hold. We constantly wonder what Bella’s life will be like: Will she be able to get dressed on her own? Will she be able to write her name? Will she have friends who want to play with her at recess? Will she ever tell me that she loves me?
All we can do as parents is give our kids our best, and help them turn their cant’s into cans.

On Saturday, May 31st, Bella proved that she could DUO! She participated in the Family Fun Fit East End Kids KOS Duathlon , and proudly ran 50 metres, rode her bike for 600 metres, followed by another 100 metre run. To our family this race was not only an extension of our passion for physical activity, but a great step in our pursuit to bring visibility to disABILITY.

Group shotIf it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. This is what Bella has taught us. Since she was an infant, she was born with challenges. Despite these obstacles and the medical predictions and assumptions of what she would and would not be able to do, she has constantly surprised us with her abilities, from the time she took her first step to walk at the age of 2, to the first time she used her communication book to request for her favourite shaker.

When I stepped into the world as a parent of a child with special needs, I thought I would have to teach my child about the world. I thought I would have to focus my energy in teaching her how to sit quietly, play appropriately, and behave in a way that others would perceive as ‘normal’. I was wrong. It turns out I have to teach the world about my child.

By sharing our story, we hope that the next time you meet someone with special needs, you have a better understanding of that person’s struggles, but also of his or her accomplishments. We hope that, if you were to meet Bella, you would see a person who wants a friend to play with, who perseveres through challenges and never gives up, who radiates happiness with her ear-to-ear grin.

Bella and MomYes, “special parents” have it pretty rough. But, like all other parents, it’s not like we were given a choice. We just tough it through, each and every day, and have impressed ourselves with all that we can and continue to do… Just as Bella has impressed us with all that she can and will continue to do. I’m often asked how I find the strength to push on. The following quote provides the answer and truly embodies our family: “Children with special needs are not sent to special parents. Children with special needs make parents special.”


4 Ways to Make Your Phys.Ed. Class Inclusive Today.

When planning your physical education class, all students no matter their ability or level of physical activity should be able to participate fully in all aspects of your program. Here are four strategies you can use  for adapting games and activities for participants with varying ability levels.

  1. Equipment Size: The size of the equipment can be modified to allow a student to be more independent and successful. Larger balls can be used to make catching and striking easier. Smaller bats or striking implements can be used for students who cannot hold regulation bats, and lowering nets in volleyball or making baskets lower and balls larger can be used in basketball. The weight of objects can be modified in such a way that the game can be slowed down or can be made less intimidating. For example, a beachball or balloon can replace a volleyball or a soft skin ball or deflated soccer ball can replace a regulation soccer ball.
  2. Space: The playing area can be made smaller by making alternative boundaries. The space can also be made smaller by utilizing the corner of the gym or room so that the ball does not go as far away from the students. Rather than playing one large game of any sport, multiple small game should be utilized to maximize student participation.
  3. Peer Assistance: The buddy system can help build self-confidence for students, and buddies should be volunteers vs. being assigned. If there is a range in ages of students in a school, pairing a younger and an older student together could help to make the situation less intimidating for the younger student.
  4. Rules of the Game: Adjust the rules of activities to increase students’ chances of success while maintaining an optimal level of challenge. Consider increasing the number of tries/attempts allowed, making a target bigger or moving it closer, as well as lengthening or shortening the amount of playing time.

Most importantly, educators should approach each situation on an individual basis, in consultation with the student as well as utilizing any support personal/systems and agencies that are available.

For more information on inclusive physical education, check out Ophea’s Steps to Inclusion resource, available for free here.

Guest Blog: Bringing “Visibility to Disabilities” by Andrea Haefele

I first met Andrea in a professional capacity almost 6 years ago through my involvement in the Ontario health and physical education community. We were both hired by the Ministry of Education to meet with other provincial leaders and complete a technical analysis of the 1998 health and physical education curriculum document. It was evident from this experience that Andrea was a leader. She is passionate, dedicated to her profession, and one of the most creative and innovative health and physical education teachers I have ever met. She cares about her students and loves her job.

Over the past couple of years we’ve connected beyond the workplace, Andrea has shared her journey back into running after the birth of her son as well as the inspiration that she draws from her four year old daughter Bella. Bella, will be competing in her first Triathlon this summer in an amazing event which provides opportunities for children of all needs and abilities to be active in a fun and supportive environment.

It is with great honour that I share my blog with Andrea and I know you will be inspired by Andrea and her family as much as I have.

My Family’s Journey Bringing “Visibility to Disabilities”

I am a runner. I wake up at 5:00am and drag my feet out of bed. I can barely get my eyes to open each morning, let alone muster the energy to put on my running gear. And yet, every day, somehow, I tie up my shoes and hit the pavement. I push myself to run further, faster, and fiercer every day, because this is who I am.

I am a Health & Physical Education teacher. I get my students to move. I teach them how to play. I encourage all of them to live a healthier and more active life. I want them to love themselves, and to treat their bodies with respect. I am lucky to wear a T-shirt and track pants to work every day. I love my job.

photo(25)I am a wife. I met my husband at the gym (how clichéd!). We are learning how to be parents together. We push each other in our workouts, and we push each other to become better parents. We share duties, we share joys, we share challenges, and we share a passion for staying active.

I am a mother. My one-year-old son teaches me to have patience, to slow down, and to enjoy the simple things in life. He finds enjoyment in a paper box. He is delighted by a wooden spoon. My four-year-old daughter teaches me to have courage. She has a smile that lights up a room. She embodies happiness. Her special needs do not define who she is.

IMG_2420Bella was born with brain abnormalities. She has been diagnosed with global developmental delay, and more recently, with severe autism spectrum disorder. At four years old, she is cognitively at the level of a one-year old. We weren’t sure that she would ever be able to walk. I cried when she took her first steps at the age of two and a half years old.

When I train for races, I often feel like giving up. 15km into my workout, my legs start feeling heavy and tired. My brain is mentally exhausted. These physical and mental hills feel impossible to hurdle. When that happens, I think of my daughter. I think about how, at 4 years old, she has already endured countless physiotherapy, occupational, speech and language therapy sessions. I think about her courage, her perseverance, and her natural instinct to work hard to overcome her personal challenges. She teaches me that trials make life interesting. She inspires me to conquer my fears and to take on new obstacles.

IMG_3670My husband and I strive to give both of our children as many opportunities as we can. If it’s as simple as going to a new park, trying a new food that might end up on the floor, or even teaching Bella how to share a toy with her baby brother, we are ready to let both our children experience the good, the bad and the ugly. My husband and I enjoy sharing our active lifestyles with our children. We completed the Terry Fox run as a family for three years in a row, and now I want the whole family to participate in a triathlon.

IMG_1547_framedOn Saturday, June 1st, the Beaches Triathlon Club will be hosting its 9th Annual East End Kids of Steel Triathlon at the Birchmount Community Centre. The triathlon was born from the idea of wanting children to be physically active, with the support and involvement of their families. In its first year, this event hosted over 350 kids, most of whom had never been to a triathlon before. Each year thereafter, East End Kids of Steel has continued to grow.

This year, the Beaches Triathlon Club will be integrating kids with special needs. Bella and five of her friends from the Holland Bloorview Hospital Play & Learn Nursery School will be participating in a triathlon for the very first time. Their special needs range from cerebral palsy, to autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, and various physical disabilities. Although they all have very special needs and disabilities, they are nevertheless able to participate and to get active.

IMG_1559_framedChristina Kauffman, the organizer of the event, and I have been working very hard to not only promote this event, but also to bring awareness that all kids can do anything if they put their mind to it. I want to bring “visibility to disabilities” and show that kids and people of all abilities can be successfully integrated into this type of multi-sport event. I am sharing my journey as an athlete, teacher, wife and mother. I want to share this upcoming experience with others of how my daughter and her friends will be trying a tri for the very first time. I am looking for support to share our story with the media. I want to dispel the myths for kids with disabilities, and showcase our achievements from this event. I want others to learn and see that anything is possible.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing from you!


Andrea Haefele

If you are a parent of a child with special needs looking to connect with other parents, or if you are looking to participate in or promote this amazing event please connect with Andrea at the following email address: