Successful Valtti stories

Valtti programme was an "eye-opening experience" for Ossi's whole family

The Valtti programme was designed to find a suitable sports hobby for children and young (aged 6–23) with special needs.

The Valtti programme is coordinated by the Finnish Paralympic Committee. In the Valtti programme, personal adapted physical activity instructors (PAPAIs) help children and young people with special needs to try out various forms of sports and exercise, and in this way hopefully help them find a suitable hobby just for them.

The PAPAIs are usually students of physical education, social services, or rehabilitation. The PAPAI first gets to know the special needs person they will be working with along with their family, and then plans an exercise schedule for the duration of the Valtti programme. The purpose of this, is to encourage the child/young person to find themselves an enjoyable hobby, or at the very least to get them more motivated to do physical exercise.

Ossi Lukkarinen is a 14-year-old boy living in the city of Lahti, and he took part in the Valtti programme in 2016. Ossi's autism made it difficult in the past to find him a suitable hobby, though that all changed once he entered the Valtti programme. According to Ossi's mother Karoliina Lukkarinen, it is usually quite difficult to find information on exercise groups designed for special needs children:

“Yes it was very frustrating, I must admit, to try and find my son a nice, suitable hobby, when there was such a lack of information.”

Ossi’s own, personal adapted physical activity instructor, 23-year-old Sanna Laakkonen, managed to get Ossi eight opportunities to try out different sports and take part in various exercise and sports groups during the Valtti programme:

“Well first, I met Ossi and his family, and together we discussed what sort of sports Ossi would be interested in trying out, and because Ossi was clearly enthusiastic, and wanted to try out a lot of different types of sports, I wanted to make sure he´d be able to try out as many as possible, and at the same time give Ossi a great experience.”

At the end of the program, thanks to Sanna´s efforts, Ossi had managed to try out canoeing, bowling, snorkeling, track & field and basketball. 

Before the Valtti programme, Ossi had already managed to try some sports. In 2014, the Lukkarinen family had tried out karate in a family-karate group. In 2015, Ossi got the chance to try ski jumping in the Janne Ahonen ski jumping academy. But according to Karoliina Lukkarinen, back then there wasn´t nearly enough information about different sorts of sports groups for children with special needs, which is exactly why the Valtti programme was such a positive experience for the whole family:

“The Valtti programme really did exceed all our expectations in every shape and form. We got more information than ever before about different sports groups suitable for children like Ossi. For example, through the programme, we found this basketball group in Lahti, Unified, which is exactly tailored for children and young people like Ossi. He is still highly active in the basketball group to this day. The Valtti programme really was an eye-opening experience for our whole family, because we realized how well Ossi can cope in different groups and social scenes. And the fact that you can actually find groups like these for your child, is really great”, Karoliina Lukkarinen told us.

After the Valtti programme ended, Ossi managed to get himself a support person, who nowadays actively spends time with Ossi four times a month.

The Valtti programme is a part of a three-year SEDY (Sports Empowers Disabled Youth) undertaking that is backed up by the European Union. The purpose of this undertaking is to support and encourage children and young people with special needs to find joy in sports and exercise. After the SEDY undertaking is finished, the Finnish Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities will continue the Valtti programme as its own, ongoing project.

The application period for the 2017 Valtti programme begins on March the 1st, and ends on April the 30th for both children and young seeking positive sports experiences, as well as for people who wish to take on the role of a personal adapted physical activity instructor (PAPAI).

Text: Mikael Kivimäki


Venla finally got her shoes muddy

Venla Tuominen is an eight-year-old girl living in the municipality of Hollola, who took part in the Valtti programme last year.

Even though Venla has an optical nerve disorder, she had already done some sports before joining the programme. With the support of her family, she had done quite a bit of cycling and hiking. Venla has also done swimming since she was a baby.

According to Venla´s mother, Heli Tuominen, the Valtti programme has brought more activity and action into Venla's life:

“We first heard of the Valtti programme through Venla's support person. We applied for the programme quite late in fact, but luckily, we still got accepted.”

Thanks to Venla's supportive and energetic PAPAI (Personal Adapted Physical Activity Instructor) Iida Elonen, Venla was able to try out several different forms of sports during the active five-week-period:

“Well, Venla and Iida tried out quite a few different sports. They went swimming together, they tried out jumping on the trampoline, horseback riding, and basketball, which Venla liked a lot. Then there was show dance, bowling and wall climbing. And I have to say, our family had a really great PAPAI. In a matter of five weeks, thanks to Iida, Venla got to try out all these different sports. The timetable was intense, but very rewarding”, Heli Tuominen told.

After the Valtti programme, Venla has actively continued enjoying sports; she goes to basketball practice twice a month, and otherwise exercises approximately five times a week.

“Her self-confidence grew a lot after the programme; nowadays she goes head-first to try out anything and everything, and she actively pursues new challenges when it comes to exercise. Now, she’s taken part in the school´s skiing competitions, she’s more active in the school's physical education classes, and she just attended a floorball tournament. Nowadays Venla clearly has this hunger to show everyone that she can participate, and that she’s ready and able to play along with the others. Today, no matter what, she always tries. And she’s not as shy to try new things as she was before”, Heli Tuominen says in a happy tone.

Finding a suitable PAPAI for a child is the cornerstone of success in the Valtti programme, as the Tuominen family soon noticed:

“When we met Iida for the first time, I almost immediately felt that Venla and Iida would get along splendidly. There was no reason to be nervous leaving Venla in the hands of Iida, and she worked with our family very well. And it was quite bittersweet when we had our last meeting with Iida. For the last meeting, our whole family was there, and I must admit that tears were shed when we met with Iida for the last time under those circumstances. But Venla does remember the Valtti programme in a very positive way, and she talks about Iida to this day”, Heli said.

According to Venla herself, the experience of the Valtti programme was a happy one:

“It was really great to try out all those different sports. Except for the show dance. That wasn't so much fun. But spending time with Iida was great, and it's just a shame we don't see each other like that anymore.”

According to Venla's mother Heli, the Valtti programme experience has brought a clear and joyful change in Venla's everyday life; she often spends her free time outside now, playing with her friends.

“Bruises don't really scare Venla anymore. The rest of the family is, of course, still sort of terrified when she falls down or something, but then you just have to take a step back, and let her enjoy herself. Even Venla's support person said that it’s so great to see that Venla's shoes are sometimes a little muddy nowadays, or that her jeans are slightly worn out, because it’s a clear sign that a child is living a healthy, active childhood.”

Text: Mikael Kivimäki