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One year countdown to 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto

TORONTO - Organizers of the 2015 Parapan Am Games are counting down one year until more than 1,600 para-athletes hit Toronto for a chance at gold.

Sports Minister Bal Gosal said the games offer Canadian para-athletes a "tremendous opportunity" to hone their skills on home turf.

All 15 sports at the Parapan Am Games are qualifiers for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Calgarian para-cyclist and quadruple amputee Jaye Milley said it's "indescribable" to have the games in Canada.

"It's so amazing having your home crowd cheer for you," he said, adding that the para-sport movement is gradually becoming more popular.

Milley finished fourth in the 1,000-metre time trial at the 2011 Parapan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

"What people are starting to realize is we train just as hard. We are just as competitive. We go just as fast and we are just as good to watch," he said.

Wheelchair basketball player David Eng said his entire team is moving to Toronto to train together in the lead-up to the games.

"This is the only thing that matters for us right now," he said, adding that the one-year countdown is a milestone that has spurred the team to train harder.

In celebration of the countdown, organizers launched a video dubbed "Are you ready?" showcasing para-athletes and their intensive training rituals.

Eng, a two-time Paralympic winner from Montreal, said his regimen includes doing chin-ups while sitting in a wheelchair, lifting it off the ground.

He added that he also puts elastic bands on the wheels of his chair to create resistance and in the past he has used a gas mask during exercise to restrict oxygen intake, forcing him to focus on breathing.

"It's really amazing that it's here in Toronto," he said, adding that it's a chance to show the public what wheelchair basketball is all about.

"The high performance, the high elite, the excitement, the electricity," he said.

Next year's competition, from Aug. 7 to 15, 2015, will mark the first time the Parapan Am Games will be held in Canada.

Gosal said preparations for the games are going well.

"All the venues are either on budget or under budget, on time," he said.

The federal government committed $500 million to infrastructure, legacy funds and services such as border security for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. The Parapan Am Games follow the Pan Am Games, which will take place in Toronto July 10 to 26 next year.

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