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Money for medals could help Canadian Paralympians out of their bank accounts

Money for medals could help Canadian Paralympians out of their bank accounts

Austin Smink lets out a big smile and pumps his fist.

Smink, a two-time Paralympic wheelchair racer, had just learned that Canadian Paralympians will now get paid for every medal they win at the Paris Games this summer and beyond.

“This is unbelievable. This is amazing. I feel amazing. I feel this is right and it's amazing how far we've come,” Smink told CBC Sports.

The Canadian Paralympic Committee announced Wednesday it has received an $8 million grant, with equal funding from private donor Sanjay Malaviya and the federal government.

The funds will be used to pay $20,000 for gold medals for Canadian Paralympians, $15,000 for silver medals, and $10,000 for bronze medals.

It's the same pay structure as Canada's Olympic athletes.

The money for medals has been a long time coming for Paralympic athletes, as they have watched their Olympic counterparts and competitors get paid for success.

Now, it is in place for the foreseeable future. However, the effects of the newly added stimulus remain to be seen.

“High performance will continue as usual – with a bit of a smile in the background, as we work towards the potential cash incentive as well,” Smink said.

watched CBC Sports' Miles Dichter discusses the Paralympic Medal Bonus Program:

Canadian athletes will be financially rewarded for the medals they win at the Paralympics

CBC Sports' Miles Dichter discusses the news that Canadian para-athletes will now receive the same amount of money as their Canadian Olympic counterparts for winning medals. $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze.

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Long time coming

For Karolina Wisniewska, the journey to Wednesday's announcement has been a long one.

Wisnieszka won eight medals between 1998 and 2010 as a Paralympic skier and will serve as co-chair of delegation alongside former boccia player Josh Vander Wees in Paris.

She said that when she competed in her first world championships in 1996, she only had a T-shirt to wear on the podium because it was distributed to athletes with disabilities only once every four years.

“I was crying and it was like a total moment because I lived through a time where I didn't have a uniform, let alone the incentive of performing on the podium, and I was still there to see it all and be a part of it. It's amazing,” she told CBC Sports.

Wisniewska, 47, from Calgary, recounted her feelings of shock, awe and amazement when she first heard about the endowment.

“Forget thinking this would happen to me during my sports career. I didn't even think this would happen in my life,” she said. “I think that also reflects the positive momentum and changes that we're seeing in Canada and in society as a whole, and obviously the focus on equality, but also in the Paralympic movement in Canada.”

watched Sanjay Malaviya makes sure Canada's medal-winning Paralympic athletes get paid:

Sanjay Malaviya is making sure Canada's medal-winning Paralympians get paid

The Canadian businessman has committed $4 million through the Malaviya Foundation, to ensure that Paralympic athletes receive equal compensation to Olympic athletes when they win a medal.

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Extra money can prolong a career

With eight medals in her back pocket, Wisnieska said she could only count how much money she would have won.

But she calculated how much that money could mean to today's Paralympic athletes.

“This money may not be enough to fund your entire athletic career or anything, but it will certainly contribute to the athlete's ability to be more independent and be able to make decisions for themselves that benefit them and their athletic career, maybe if they did.” “If they don’t have that money, they don’t have the ability to make those choices,” she said.

Less obviously, the fundamental recognition that Paralympic medals are equal to Olympic medals should benefit the athletes who go to Paris as well.

“We've already overcome our disability whatever it is. Then we go on and become Paralympic athletes and then we'll go on to get on the podium at the Paralympics and still not be recognized in a fair way, but now we are, so I think it can really change the mood for Team Canada,” Wisniewska said. He goes to Paris.”

Nate Rich, 28, is scheduled to compete in just one Paralympic event, limiting his potential earnings from the new fund to $20,000.

However, the Paralympic champion and T38 1500m world record holder said the extra motivation could help prolong his career.

“Some of our best Paralympic athletes are having to retire early because they can't support themselves anymore. … Just the mental stress of not having a lot of money, and having to make a decision like, 'Oh, I can only have this much Food this week, or not being able to afford a car because you take the bus all the time and that adds a lot of time to your day. So I think maybe it's the little things that people don't think about that will have a big impact,” he said.

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Limited opportunities to make money

Athletes like Rich can also make money through sponsor incentives, but there are very few other opportunities to earn money based on your results.

Like Smink, he said his training won't go up much because of the new funding.

“I'm still going to continue to dominate, regardless of whether there's money at stake or not,” he said.

But in Smink's case, the timing of the fund may have been perfect.

The 26-year-old said that when he started competing in Paralympic sports 10 years ago, this kind of financial reward seemed impossible.

After years of podium finishes, Smink finally claimed silver and bronze at last year's World Championships to claim the first major medals of his career.

Now, if he returns to the podium in Paris, Smink has promised that he will take the track and field team out to dinner.

“I can confirm that there will definitely be some real champagne on the table.”

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