Most students are aware of many of the athletic opportunities available at Western. There are varsity teams, intramurals and fan clubs.

An aspect of Western's sports culture that might not be the first thing to come to mind, though, are the organizations that use athletics to make a difference in the world. 

Right to Play, an international non-profit, has a large chapter at Western. The organization brings sport to underprivileged children in 20 developing countries. At Western, those involved work hard to raise money through events they organize.

Adam Walser, a fifth-year engineering and Ivey student and RTP Western's vice-president finance, explained what the charity's employees do when they go to underprivileged communities.

"They just play games with kids, and each lesson has a life lesson attached to it," he said. "After the game they'll do a debrief and just kind of give the kids an idea. It's usually related to something that's going on in their country. It's a better way of teaching kids about stuff like that than in a classroom, because they get to experience it firsthand."

Walser added that in London, club members go to schools associated with the Boys and Girls Club, playing sports and games to teach Canadian kids about the world. RTP Western also facilitates fundraising efforts on campus. 

"Our biggest event is called the Sport-A-Thon," he said. "It's an all-day sports tournament held at the Rec Centre every year. This is our sixth year running it; last year we had almost 200 people sign up and we raised over $2000." 

The charity has many other events, with bottle drives, bar nights and scavenger hunts all year long that students can get involved in. 

More locally, Western has a flourishing branch of the Swim Ability program. The club is focused on providing affordable swimming lessons to kids with special needs. Swim Ability operates nationally, but the London chapter is one of the most successful. The club's offshoot branch, Tidal Waves, is a program that continues swim education into adulthood for those that have graduated from Swim Ability. 

Every Sunday at Western Student Recreation Centre, almost 150 students meet with the child or adult that they've been paired with, to teach them essential swimming skills. Despite only existing since 2009, Swim Ability has become one of the most successful initiatives on campus. 

Fourth-year physiology student Daniel Onete, part of Swim Ability's leadership group at Western, explained how helpful the organization can be for parents who want their children to become comfortable in water.

"[The alternative] is usually private lessons, and it's way more expensive," he pointed out. "[Swim Ability] is a lot cheaper than if you were to do private lessons with a city pool." 

Since the participants involved often do require one-on-one instruction, the price of swimming lessons would indeed be exorbitant at any other facility. However, by having a staff of volunteer student-teachers, Swim Ability's service is affordable — with a price tag of $30 for an eight-lesson season. 

As well as contributing to those outside of Western, there are clubs that work to use sport to enrich the lives of students themselves. One such group is Athletes in Action, again a local branch of a national organization. 

Co-president of Athletes in Action, Arlene Van Reenen, is a member of the women's rugby team, as well as a fourth-year health science major. She's found the club to be helpful in her own life, and has seen its impact on others. 

The club combines athletics with spirituality, meeting weekly to play a sport and discuss how their religious faith relates to competition. They also work with athletes on campus, providing religious support and attending Mustangs varsity games to cheer on club members. Although primarily a Christian organization, meetings are welcome to those of all faiths. 


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Charlie is a second year student in Media, Information and Technoculture, and is a first year sports editor for Volume 110 of the Gazette. Follow him on Twitter @charliejclarke or contact him at charlie@westerngazette.ca

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