UofT: Back Campus by Taku is licensed under CC BY 2.0​

A 41-day relay winds down as July 10 nears, and a burning flame passes through the hands and hearts of a growing number of torchbearers. Ignited in Theotihuacan, Mexico, the Pan Am flame is approaching Toronto, its final destination on a more than 20, 000 km journey.

The upcoming Pan/Parapan Am Games will feature more than 7, 600 athletes and will be the largest multi-sport event in Canadian history.

Aside from the expected chorus of pride for Toronto, and the world-class athletes arriving in the city, the Pan Am Games are also creating another impact: sports infrastructure, much of which is in the vicinity of U of T.

A sizeable investment

Funding for the newly built Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC), located on U of T’s Scarborough campus (UTSC) represents the greatest monetary investment in Canadian amateur sports history. The $205-million TPASC received funding from three levels of government not only because it will host a number of Pan Am/Parapan Games competitions, including aquatics, diving, fencing, and seated volleyball, but also because it will benefit a number of communities long after the Pan Am flame has left Toronto.

The TPASC includes four gymnasiums, an array of state of the art fitness equipment, a three-storey rock-climbing wall, and an indoor 200 metre, three lane track. The centre also includes a dive tank and two 50 metre Olympic size pools, doubling the number of aquatic facilities of this calibre in the Greater Toronto Area.

U of T students will also have the use of a new fully accessible 8 court tennis centre as a legacy of the Wheelchair Parapan Am Games and two multi-sport play fields adjacent to the TPASC. The centre will host the modern pentathlon during the games and will be available for student use thereafter.

U of T meets athletics

In the past, U of T has supported a large number of student athletics and recreation programs . The new Pan Am facility now furthers the university’s ability to provide a leading edge and comprehensive programming to its students.

Scott McRoberts, director of athletics and recreation at UTSC explains that the TPASC will vastly improve student health and wellness and believes it will help U of T to become an even more prominent university. “U of T is already known as an excellent academic institution — we ranked twentieth in the QS World University rankings. Hosting the Pan Am Games now gives us the opportunity to further develop student athletics.”

McRoberts goes on to explain how U of T is attempting to transform itself into an athletic hub. “With the construction of the Pan Am Sports Centre, we offer world-class facilities, combined with innovative high quality programming… [We] aspire to a vision of being the hub of sport, recreation, learning and leadership by building an athletic community committed to excellence and inclusion, at all levels, for all abilities.”

Some athletes are taking notice of the change. Andres Jamarillo, U of T student and former national Ecuadorian karate champion, said he chose to immigrate to Canada because of U of T’s renowned management program, and said that when he began studying at UTSC he was very impressed by the Pan Am Centre. He stated that the facility was competent by all professional and international standards.

The newly built centre provides the specialized facilities and equipment athletes need to be able to compete at high levels. Athletes who use the TPASC are in fact training in the same facility that Swimming Canada will use to hold the 2016 Olympic . What’s more, the new $56-million dollar velodrome is located only an hour from Toronto, in Milton. The facility could potentially attract amateur athletes from all over Ontario and improve the level of Canadian cycling.

The advent of the Pan Am Games has also given rise to interest in sports management at the University of Toronto. Since coaches, managers, and organizers from all over the world are coming to Toronto for the games, U of T students will have the opportunity to network and establish connections with sporting professionals who have international experience.

Students are finding a multitude of ways to get involved in the games. The Parapan Am wheelchair tennis committee includes many U of T students who want to promote the Pan Am Games as a platform for physical and mental health. “A lot of students are involved in the committee because we want to be involved in the post-games legacy,” said Ary Maharaj, a recent graduate in neuroscience and committee member. “The Pan Am Games have created a new infrastructure for U of T. We want to use it to encourage students to get active and develop an increased interest in health and wellness.”

Maharaj, who intends to work in a field promoting mental health, explained that physical activity and recreation can drastically reduce stress. “I notice that when it’s exam time, healthy eating and exercise are often the two first things that students drop. It’s unfortunate because in my neuroscience courses I see that exercise has so many health benefits for the brain.” Getting involved in the games is one way Maharaj intends to help students make time for healthy living.

McRoberts explained that students are already starting to use the TPASC in order to stay healthy and overcome stress during exam periods. “In past years, the number of students who use the UTSC gym typically drops in December,” he said. “This is in large part due to hectic exam schedules. This year, however, McRoberts noticed a ten per cent increase in student gym usage.

According to David Peterson, chair of the Pan Am Organizing Committee, the Pan/Parapan Am Games are creating a hub for sports for years to come. In a recent Globe and Mail article, Peterson stated that the games will inspire people who might not otherwise become involved in sports. People of different backgrounds and levels of ability will get the opportunity to try new activities, and enjoy the benefits of being physically active.

“Athletes at all levels train in the TPASC, from high performance national athletes to amateur youth learning to swim,” said McRoberts. “The centre is a platform for developing critical foundational skills such as leadership development, experiential learning, teamwork, and time management — skills that often cannot be taught in a classroom. Athletics and recreation also helps build community, provide meaningful social interaction and creates unique and memorable experiences for all who participate.”

With the investment in the health and wellness of students, and the commitment to the development of amateur athletes, the future of young Ontarian athletes looks promising. “The games are only the start,” says Maharaj. “We’re channelling the energy of the games into building an infrastructure that will last long after the games are over.”

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