Why I donate to the Canadian Paralympic Movement

Josh and wife Dalia on podium in Guadalajara 2011. Baby Olivia playing with a backpack in front of wheelchair. Josh graduating UBC law school, convocation.

Eight years old, I was in my family living room, huddled around the couple inches of TV we had back then. The little feet I was born with were sweaty and gripping our hardwood floor.

Lane 6 at those Atlanta Olympics had my entire attention – focused even more laser-like after three false starts. We were waiting along with the whole world. The gun went off and they were away clean. Donovan Bailey looked like he was going to finish last.

Then he blasted across the finish line first through the announcer’s yells: “Nine eight four, a world record for Donovan Bailey and a gold medal!” I jumped, and flexed my little boy shoulders and short arms and screamed just like he did. A gold medal for Canada.

I didn’t realize that was where my journey in competitive sport began, until a Radio Canada reporter asked me at the London 2012 Paralympics, before I competed, “When did you decide to become an athlete?” The interview was in French, and I was already a few paces behind with my messaging. I paused, and blurted: “Bein, j’étais très inspiré par la médaille d’or de Donovan Bailey dans les 100m.” I went on to tell the reporter that after seeing him win, I wanted to do the same thing.

If I had been born a few years earlier, or in a different city, I might not have been able to. Luckily, my parents already had me in swimming lessons, and we found the option of being competitive in the local disability sports team, the Sarnia Red Hots. The Olympics inspired me to be an athlete for Canada. The Paralympic movement gave me a path to do it.

On the Red Hots, I fell in love with beating my own swimming time, then beating other swimmers. At multi-sport disability events like the Windsor Classic Indoor Games for the Physically Disabled, I met other kids doing the same. I found shot put and discus and javelin there – throwing events I could compete in. I threw some of my first boccia balls in Windsor.

The memory of my first boccia games is like Donovan Bailey’s win on TV. It is so clear and very fuzzy around the edges. I won all the boccia games, and took first place out of three junior players. One of my opponents was pretty upset, and my parents’ words about him ring these years later: “Apparently he was used to usually beating all the adults.” That felt pretty good.

There weren’t many tournaments like my first. I spent most of my career as an elite athlete losing, and learning in defeat. I learned enough to pull off a bronze medal win with my doubles partner Marco Dispaltro in London 2012, but sport and the journey to that podium gave me way more than the medal.

Josh and wife Dalia on podium in Guadalajara 2011. Baby Olivia playing with a backpack in front of wheelchair. Josh graduating UBC law school, convocation.

Sport introduced me to my beautiful wife. That means even our little Olivia is from sport. Sport got me travelling away from my parents so I knew I could survive at university away from the nest. Sport taught me to set hard goals and achieve them, so I went on to finish law school.

There are less and less multi-sport disability clubs like the Sarnia Red Hots now though. Disability focused sport events happen less and less in Canada, and it is becoming less clear how kids, especially disabled kids, can participate in sport and have the choice to become athletes. I worry that other kids like me won’t have the opportunities that I did. Sport participation is plummeting across Canada. Only 3% of disabled Canadians participate in sport.

Josh and Donovan Bailey photos, side by side. Both are yelling, while competing at respective Games.

You can help me make sure current opportunities are strengthened and new ones built, by supporting the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) with me. They are asking for our help this month in raising funds.

After working as a summer law student last year at a top Canadian charity law firm, my thoughts on giving and charity were transformed. I learned that charity is not just about the weird feeling we get when those infomercials show suffering cute animals, or third world children. Charity can have an impact.

CPC sponsors are doubling the first $30,000 in donations for this campaign – Playground to Podium. I donated $250 of my own money to give back to a cause that gave me my path in life.

Please help build future Canadians – more healthy ones, and international medalists – by donating along with me, to my campaign giving group here, or through the image below.




How Our Daughter Olivia Was Born

She was supposed to arrive early last week but Dalia’s belly just kept getting bigger and bigger. The due date came and went and nothing much else happened.  We went about our days, waiting for takeoff, or maybe landing?  Me at work and training, Dalia at home and all around and Karolis enjoying his summer vacation.  9 days later the great staff at St. Paul’s Hospital induced Dalia and sent her home, advising that sometimes it can take 2 or 3 days for labour to come.

Dalia and her doola, an amazing friend of ours, thought otherwise. They took a walk around downtown Vancouver to get things going.  Around 3 hours (not days!) later, pre-labour started and Dalia and Olivia were ready to go.

Karolis and I were there for everything.  We experienced something so scary and awesome and special that words can’t do it justice.  Dalia was incredible.  It is amazing how quickly her maternity suite screeched to a blissful calm and quiet with such happiness once Olivia arrived.

Everyone’s faces in the pictures say the rest:













My First Instagram Post is My Favourite


I remember starting to see all of the hipster tinged pictures showing up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds many months ago.  It was likely around the time that Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion, that I realized what those sepia filtered photos were.  Naturally, I decided to get an account and create my own.

I made the decision sitting in the Air Canada London Lounge at Heathrow Airport.  It was after a week of speaking to elementary schools in East London, around where the Olympics and Paralympics would soon take place.  My thoughts were swirling, as I was glowing in the excitement of all those students, and gearing up to compete myself.

So, I photographed the coffee and water I was drinking, framed the table and background at an angle and applied the glorious filter, before posting to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.  Drafting the caption was part of the thrill:

“My last European coffee for a while”

Photo: airreview.com

It was also Canada Day.  So, I reflected on Britain’s role as a former Empire, and Canada’s journey away from associating itself as a colony – luckily, and with lots of help from Britain’s enemy, France and their satellite people, Quebec.  The snapshot oozes nostalgia for me.  I am not afraid to embrace the full power of the Nickelback Instagram parody (Google it if you have not seen it yet).

Today, I researched what the Air Canada lounge is called at Heathrow, and learned that it will be closing soon.  I took the photo from where the arrow is pointing in the photo.  The nostalgia meter for this very first Instagram photo I took was cranked up even more.

It captured my anxiety about putting my years of boccia training to the test.  It reminds me of the Canada Day I spent in the British Empire’s former capital and how I felt glad to be Canadian.  It celebrates the rich and bold quality of coffee available seemingly everywhere in Europe, and expresses my anguish at having to return to a land where most coffee is barren and largely not delicious.

I am not sure if I can produce another Instagram picture with as much raw meaning.  I hope you will click the main photo above and follow me on Instagram as I try.

What is your favourite Instagram photo?

Guest Blog Post: True Accessibility is Universal

I had a great time last weekend, honoured as a Paralympic medalist at the Great Valentine Gala. Another highlight for me was riding in a truly innovative new accessible limo service.  Love My Limo picked me up from the airport in an MV-1 and I wrote about the experience at allaccesspass.ca.

Check it out here: http://www.allaccesspass.ca/1/post/2013/02/true-accessibility-is-universal-by-josh-vander-vies.html

It is so great to see more wheelchair accessible transportation options becoming available in Toronto, in addition to wheelchair accessible taxis, wheelchair accessible transit and the Wheel Trans service. Maybe one day, the transportation systems across Canada will be as inclusive as those in cities like London, UK – where 100% of transit buses and taxis are accessible.