Yuel Family Physical Activity Research Centre fosters community for those with spinal cord injuries

The Yuel Family Physical Activity Research Centre (PARC) is a community space for people with spinal cord injuries and a hub for UBC research.

The heart of PARC’s research is a long-term study on how exercise impacts the quality of life of those with spinal cord injuries. For members of the spinal cord injury community, PARC is a place to exercise using high-quality equipment moulded to their needs and foster relationships.

“I think what I really have just come to appreciate about PARC is it was started for the research, but it has become a real community centre,” said faculty advisor Dr. Andrea Bundon. She estimates 120-150 people have attended PARC — located at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre — weekly in the 9 years since it began.

PARC is conducting research on physical exercise and other collaborative projects. Recently, PARC created new accessible equipment for wheelchair users, in partnership with spinal cord injury research centre iCORD (its parent institute), other UBC groups, SFU, BCIT and community members. PARC equipment is offered in 14 different facilities across BC.

Every year, between 50 and 70 kinesiology students volunteer with PARC, through WorkLearn or integrated learning. It is a place for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom and gain insight from community members who “get to teach off the lived experiences of having spinal cord injury,” said Bundon.

During the pandemic, students developed online exercise classes to serve community members who could not attend in person. These classes became so popular that PARC continues to offer them. Bundon said this increased accessibility, as people who had moved away or could not come to Vancouver are now able to participate virtually.

According to Bundon, PARC has been a boon for the students involved. During the pandemic, students told her they were motivated by knowing they had people relying on them to lead an exercise class along with feeling connected to the participants involved.

PARC has an intake of volunteers at the start of every semester and interested students can check its website. Students are encouraged to visit the facility and learn more.

Bundon said the future of PARC will involve expansions to support other facilities, which include training, developing and providing accessible equipment, and sharing knowledge.

“We’re really trying to help other places now develop some of this expertise, or some of the resources so that people with disabilities don’t have to come to PARC. They can go to their community centre, they could go to their local gym and get the same quality that they can get at PARC,” said Bundon.

For Bundon, the dedication of the PARC team and its community members are integral to its success.

“The sort of commitment of everyone to this project in this community is really just incredible in my mind [and] the fact that it’s gone so long and has become such a meaningful part of most lives,” she said.

This article is part of The Ubyssey's neuroscience supplement, Big Brain Time. Pick up our latest print issue on campus to read the full supplement.