The two-years-and-counting countdown is on for Invictus Games 2025, which will be held in Canada’s British Columbia (Vancouver and Whistler) in February 2025 and feature more than 500 adaptive sports competitors from 20 countries. For the first time since the inception of the Games in 2014, winter sports such as alpine skiing, skeleton, wheelchair curling and Nordic skiing will take place alongside the core sports of indoor rowing, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball.
Athletes will be wounded, injured and sick servicemembers and veterans who once again will represent their countries.
“The legacies of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games will provide the Invictus Games Foundation the perfect stage for this monumental event,” then-Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said when the host cities were announced last April.
“Invictus Games 2025 provides an opportunity for competitors to showcase their strength and resilience, and demonstrates the power of sport to aid in recovery,” Jonathan Price, CEO of Vancouver-based Teck Resources Limited, added in separate statement recently announcing the mining company as the first commercial sponsor of the Games.
Adaptive sports appear to be entering a new era of recognition. In mid-February, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the NCAA Office of Inclusion announced the activation of three adaptive sports programming initiatives that will be implemented across the Women’s Final Four, the Drake Relays and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Fall National Championships.
The historic efforts come as a result of the USOPC/NCAA Para-College Inclusion Project, which launched in Fall 2022 as a collaborative effort to engage schools with adaptive sports while simultaneously increasing paralympic sports understanding, awareness and connection across the collegiate landscape.
“The USOPC and NCAA Para-College Inclusion Project is monumental because it marks the first time the two organizations have partnered at this level to celebrate and highlight adaptive sports and the amazing experiences of college athletes with disabilities,” Felicia Martin, the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion education and community engagement, said in a statement.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect, and when:
• College All-Star Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team
The USOPC, the NCAA and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association will partner to create a “significant operation” during the 2023 NCAA Division II and III Women’s Basketball Championships, scheduled for April 1 in Dallas. The event will include the inaugural celebration of the College All-Star Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, which will be featured during halftime of the Division II and Division III title games. This recognition will include a brief scrimmage against Team USA athletes, as well as in-venue messaging. The college all-star team will feature current college athletes from all six women’s collegiate programs, and the two teams also will participate in a skills showcase with youth players from the local wheelchair basketball club.
• College Wheelchair Track and Field Championships
Collaboration among the USOPC, Drake University, the University of Michigan and the NCAA Office of Inclusion has resulted in the opportunity to crown the first-ever men’s and women’s para-college wheelchair national champions in the 100-meter races at April’s Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. The University of Michigan will provide travel and participation resources to all qualified wheelchair athletes earning a top-three finish or top-eight time to compete at the Drake Relays.
• Wheelchair Inclusion in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association
The ITA, the governing body and coaching association of collegiate tennis, will implement a wheelchair collegiate tennis coaches’ category within its structure to open a pathway for collegiate wheelchair tennis committees, rules, rankings, awards and more. For the first time, the USTA’s National Collegiate Wheelchair Championships will have a presence at the NCAA Division I Championships in Orlando this May. In addition, the ITA will look to add a wheelchair event within the 2023 ITA National Fall Championships, which serves as the final tournament of the season for college singles and doubles players.
According to the NCAA, representatives from that association and the USOPC will analyze the impact of the Para-College Inclusion Project this fall to determine which initiatives will be examined for prolonged commitment and scalability.
Other Noteworthy Developments Around the U.S.
The University of Arizona likely will emerge as the first in the United States to offer a collegiate program specifically for para swimming. As SwimSwam.com reports:
The Wildcats’ adaptive athletics program features only two swimmers and one triathlete this season, but their team is expected to double in size this fall with two more swimmers and another triathlete signing scholarships.
While there are various opportunities for para swimmers at the college level — just over half of the Tokyo Paralympic team competed collegiately — Arizona’s program appears to be the first of its kind to recruit and offer scholarships purely for that purpose. Now the Wildcats are on the hunt for some competition.
“We want to compete for a collegiate para swim championship eventually — that’s the goal,” Pete Hughes, Arizona’s director of adaptive athletics, told the website. “Paralympics is awesome, but not every varsity athlete makes the Olympics, so not every para athlete is going to make the Paralympics. So it would be cool to have a collegiate championship.”
Meanwhile, in Wayne, N.J., a soccer club launched a four-session adaptive soccer pilot program for local kids ages 5 to12, beginning in mid-February. Tentative plans call for additional adaptive programs in baseball and skiing, according to local online news site TAPinto Wayne.
“The goal is to expand and create a more inclusive community for individuals and their families within Wayne and surrounding areas in the future,” the academy posted on its Facebook page. “This is only a starting point for us, and we have some very passionate people involved in this project.”
And the Wilmington (N.C.) City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to use $55,000 in grant funding to purchase 12 sport wheelchairs and a shipping container for storage for the Wilmington Parks and Recreation Department’s inclusive basketball, tennis and pickleball programs. Currently, the city spends “much time, money and effort” to borrow and transport sport wheelchairs from the University of North Carolina Wilmington to the city’s community centers, according to WECT.com.