Sport BC has recognized Debbie Cheong for making a difference in seniors’ lives across the province.
The Ladner resident was presented the ‘In Her Footsteps Award’ at the provincial organization’s annual gala which was held virtually last month.
In Her Footsteps is a yearly recognition program that honours female athletes, coaches, officials, judges, pioneers or advocates in B.C. These women have made significant contributions to sport and fitness through their own performance, or by enabling others to excel by encouraging participation and fostering developmental growth in sport.
Under Cheong’s stewardship, B.C. has become an international leader in seniors’ fitness. She is a sought after workshop presenter and facilitator throughout the province and beyond.
Cheong is the provincial coordinator of BC Women’s Hospital’s Osteofit, an education program that incorporates fall prevention exercise for people with low bone mass and those at risk of falling. She also oversees Get Up and Go and Carefit, two more vitally important programs for seniors.
Little did she know the impact she would ultimately make when she decided to enroll in a fitness training course decades earlier.
“I thought it would be cool to take a fitness course and it was a way to develop some self-confidence as well,” Cheong recalled. When I finished the course I got offered a job and I turned it down as I just didn’t see myself doing that.”
What did intrigue her was helping improve the lifestyles of seniors by overseeing programs that would create curriculums through scientific research to provide proper and safe fitness instruction.
“Osteoporosis is a devastating disease with a high risk for fractures. (Osteofit) was developed out of the hospital for that training structure so instructors will know what to do. It started off with a few classes in Vancouver and now the program is available province wide and in the Yukon as well,” she said.
Get Up and Go is designed to improve strength, balance and coordination as well as functional ability independence and quality of life to enhance seniors living in their own homes longer. Carefit was launched to give assisted living facilities an exercise program that is suited for their residents.
“We found out the staff at these residences really had no training in fitness activities. How can personnel lead the frailest of the frail with no knowledge?” added Cheong. “So we made the suggestion of why don’t we train the staff. It was initially a Band-Aid approach of going into care homes to make the fitness programs more appropriate and safe. Now we’re training the (fitness) students so when they graduate they already have the knowledge.
“My passion is working with seniors and seeing them improve. That social connection. Encouraging them and motivating them. I enjoy it and there is so much that can be done.”