Until you are face to face it is hard to believe what these paralympians can do – just imagine yourself going down the alpine slopes getting clocked at 74.5647284 miles per hour. OK for the metric individuals up to 120 kilometers per hour.
That you are visually impaired – add into the mix changing snow conditions and constant scheduling changes. These visually impaired para-alpine athletes rely on a guide to get them to the finish line. These athletes experience these challenges every time they compete – even with the help of a guide, it’s an amazing accomplishment. As an accredited journalist I had that rare opportunity be up close and personal with some of these remarkable athletes.
The opening ceremonies set the tone for these games. Running late, with accreditation in hand, press kit over the shoulder, and excitement roaring through my veins, I hear the crowds roars booming through that floating-roof four blocks away. Enter, and I am blasted away with the enthusiasm, the colorful displays in the air, on the ground and in the stadium seats.
During the opening ceremonies, it was no surprise to Vancouverites that both Rick Hansen and Terry Fox profiled up on the big screen. Fox is one of Canada’s iconic national heroes who had been diagnosed with bone cancer at 18 that resulted in the amputation of his right leg 6 inches above his knee. With little fanfare in 1980 he set in motion the Marathon of Hope. He ran for 143 days covering a distance of 26 miles a day and made it as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario from St. John’s Newfoundland. The nation was saddened when Fox passed at the age of 22 but his legacy carries on globally with the annual Terry Fox Run where billions are raised for Cancer Research.
Over 25 years ago, Hansen launched his Man in Motion World Tour to raise funds for spinal cord research where this tour took him to 34 countries on four continents. A car accident at 15 years old left him a paraplegic: this did not stop Rick to become an athlete. Rick was the first student with a physical disability to graduate in physical education at University of British Columbia.
Now onto Ice Sledge Hockey: It would have been so wonderful for Canada to have accomplished gold medals for all hockey games: women’s, men’s and the Ice Sledge Hockey but alas that did not happen. The atmosphere up at Whistler when Canada lost the Bronze metal game to Norway was heart-breaking.
Ice Sledge Hockey is a fast paced high-energy game that requires immense co-ordination and balance as the paralympian sits on a double bladed sharp skate, has two sticks in each hand to use for both throwing the puck and they in fact can pass under their sledge and on the ends of the sticks is a spike they can dig into the ice to move.
What is remarkable to me is that Japan stepped up to the plate but the United States of America won the gold. The American athletes in general were bigger but the Japanese athletes displayed agility and speed. In fact, Takayuki Endo, Captain of the ISH of Japan was awarded with the prestigious Whang Yiun Dai Achievement Award as he exemplifies the spirit of the Paralympics. This athlete’s claim to fame is that he climbed Mount Fuji displaying that even if you do not have legs there is no reason why one should be impeded in climbing a mountain or conquering 2,000 steps. So, when his upper body slipped out of his sledge during the last game, it did not stop him in his tracks: Endo simply hopped back into his sledge, tied himself in again and was digging his hockey sticks in the ice to get where he was going. Mr. Endo’s motto: Experience can create the self-confidence and self-confidence can create the power of life.
Also, a Canadian athlete is Colette Bourgonje in the Para-Cross Country Skiing category received the Whang Yiun Dai Achievement Award as she too exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics. For Colette the Paralympic Movement is about accepting the differences in others; it’s about pure sport; and it’s about accepting everyone and that everyone is given the opportunity that they can be the best at their sport if they desire.
There was a sigh of relief that Canada squeezed out another gold in Wheelchair Curling. The Koreans really challenged our team some other media person said that in Korea they use there outdoor pools to practice this team sport. This sort of reminds me of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa where the water is drained out and freezes-over for miles of skating pleasure. This tradition has been going on since the ‘70s, although they likely no longer serve hot mugs of mulled wine.
Norway has won two out of the last three-world wheelchair curling championships (2007 and 2008) while Canada is the reigning world champion after taking Gold at the 2009 edition, held at the Vancouver Paralympic Centre.
In 2009, with a team, made up of Sonja Gaudet, Chris Sobkowicz, Ina Forrest, Darryl Neighbour and Jim Armstrong. Canada won the gold medal at the world championships breaking a losing streak since 2006 against Sweden: 9-2 in the Vancouver Paralympic Centre.
These last games, we brought in another gold against Korea. Canada’s 2010 gold medal winning team was comprised of skip, Chris Daw, as well as Gerry Austgarden, Gray Cormack, Sonja Gaudet and Karen Blachford. Mr. Daw was already a three-time summer Paralympian. He participated in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Paralympic Games in Wheelchair Racing, and the 2000 Games in Wheelchair Rugby.
The first World Wheelchair Curling Championship was held in January 2002 and in March that year the International Paralympic Committee granted official medal status to Wheelchair Curling for mixed gender teams. The organizing committee of the Torino Paralympic Winter Games in 2006 agreed to include Wheelchair Curling in their programme. This team-sport is generally open to individuals who are non-ambulant or can only walk short distances. This includes athletes with significant impairments in lower leg/gait function, such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or double leg amputation that use a wheelchair everyday for mobility.
After public outcries CTV finally agreed to broadcast the opening and closing ceremonies. For me and many other Canadians across Canada and around the world it would have been so cool if there could have been greater television coverage especially in Canada. The slack was picked up online with the advent of social-media tools.
Maybe in 2014, Sochi, in the Russia Republic the next Paralympic Winter Games; it will be their ambition to ensure that the previous media contracts such as CTV and its partners will provide more substantial coverage of the paralympic games not just the ‘big’ olympics. It is encouraging that the Sochi team has handpicked personnel from the VANOC organizing committee. There has been lots of discourse that maybe the Paralympic Games should be staged first but at this time it seems that the International Paralympic Organization believes that is not a good idea. My opinion, the humongous media-corporations contracts should be renegotiated where they are forced to do more advertising and coverage of the Paralympics rather than dropping the ball.
The last words go to our Canadian athlete Colette Bourgonje in the Para-Cross Country Skiing category whom received the Whang Yiun Dai Achievement Award with Endo as she too exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics.
For Colette the Paralympic Movement is about accepting the differences in others; it’s about pure sport; and it’s about accepting everyone and that everyone is given the opportunity that they can be the best at their sport if they desire.
Unfortunatly, there will not be a Blue Ray DVD of the 2010 Paralympics to purchase at this time. But, you can relive the Opening and Closing Ceremony, as well as the competitions of the Whistler, Vancouver Canada 2010 Games Paralympic Sites by going to the following websites: http://www.ParalympicSport.TV; http://www.paralympics.ca; http://www.paralympic.org/; Official Government Site: www.vancouver2010.com