Follow my journey as a Students Live reporter through the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Technology in Sport

It's been a whole week since the Paralympic Games were distinguished, and I am still in awe of how those athletes perform like they do. Not only were the weather conditions terrible, making it hard for any athlete to perform their best, but these athletes have some sort of disadvantage they must overcome.

Since the Paralympic Games started in 1948, the athletes have became so much faster and so much stronger, but the technology behind the sports have also improved immensely. I found it so interesting to learn about all the special equipment and technology needed for training and competing, and even physio, treatments and every day life.

At the sledge hockey, athletes get their sledges totally customized to their preferences. For some athletes it takes years for them to discover what is most comfortable, and what allows them to preform best. In the Alpine sit-ski it is roughly the same. All seats are customized, except here they can choose whether they want two skis under their seat or only one. They can choose what type of ski, how long and how wide. One skier we talked to said it took him 4 years of testing out skis to finally feel like he's got the best equipment possible for the Paralympic Games. He then said however, "Every day technology is getting better, so by the time I'm comfortable with something, something better and faster has come out, and then I must change again. It's a never ending cycle."

After the visually impaired Giant Slalom finals, I overheard Jessica Gallagher of Australia who had just won the bronze medal talking to her mother. She and her guide said how their head pieces decided not to work for them that run. For those who don't know how visually impaired skiing works, there is a skier and a guide. The guide skis in the front of the pair, and has a headset on telling the athlete when to turn, how hard to turn, if there's a bump or a icy patch. The visually impaired skier in the back has a headpiece to, mainly to listen, but also to say something if there is an emergency, for example if they fell the guide would not know because they are skiing ahead.

I was amazed that even with no sort of communication, a visually impaired skier could make it down the course cleanly, let alone win the bronze medal. You find it hard to believe that with our technology today, and in such an important moment a crucial piece of technology would fail to deliver. This is where the part comes in that in the past couple of years, technology has advanced so much and now plays a huge part in sport. But it is also true that technology still has so much further to come and in future years we will see it develop greatly.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Canada Hockey Place- GM Place

There was no sea of red tonight and no "GO CANADA GO" inside of that arena. Now it is GM Place, but Canada Hockey Place used to be the name. It is amazing how the atmosphere can change so much while still watching the same sport in the same arena. I think the hugest difference is that we're no longer watching international hockey, and the patriotism has faded. I noticed there are far less children watching and far less foreigners. You would not believe how sad I was to see that Whale at centre ice rather than the Inukshuk, or the stairs being grey rather than that green and blue pattern. Now, walking downtown afterwards is a whole other story, I feel like I'm in a ghost town, but lets not get started on that. As weird as it may sound, I miss people asking for directions to the seabus or the skytrain, and I miss looking down any given street and seeing hundreds of flags flying above the crowds.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Vancouver Canucks, and they played an amazing game tonight. But I will definitely miss Olympic hockey, the excitement and atmosphere inside that ice rink- whatever you want to name it. From now on, in my heart it will always be "Canada Hockey Place".

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is it really the end for Vancouver Games?

Opening with the athletes marching through Whistler village, the Paralympic Closing Ceremonies were held at a different venue than the 3 previous ceremonies. These Ceremonies incorporated a lot of First Nations culture including Aboriginal drumming, dancing, their traditional hunting methods being used as a trampoline for a paraplegic and throat singing, which I found to be rather bizarre. Also included in these ceremonies was a bunch of Sochi 2014 showcases. My favourite part was all the Canadian children passing the torch along to the Russian kids, it was a memorable moment that represents the youth, who are the future of our world. I learned that the Russian national anthem is a very long song, but the young children sang it beautifully. I became rather emotional at the moment when the Mayor of Whistler, along with Greggor Robertson and Sir Phillip Craven hand over the Paralympic flag. That's when it hit me that the games are officially over. As sad as I was to watch the Games leave the hands of VANOC and all Canadians, I realized how lucky I was to be a part of the most exciting event Vancouver has ever hosted. So many memories have been created and will last a lifetime, and I am so thankful for the opportunities that have come my way. Sir Phillip Craven said in his speech- "The best Paralympic Winter Games ever!" and I agree 100% and am so proud and honored to be a Vancouverite and Canadian.

Just as the 2010 Games are ending and I thought I'd learned everything there is to know, I discovered a whole new world. And this is no small discovery, it's a whole new set of Games related with the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Have you heard of the Deaflympics? Olympic Games for the deaf. I hadn't heard about it until today and was quite surprised to find it out. They're much smaller on the scale compared to the Olympic Games, and even the Paralympic Games but none the less they are an international sporting event. Vancouver and Whistler are set to host the 2015 Deaflympics, so if you were thinking Vancouver is done hosting Games, then you are wrong. I'm sure I will be checking them out, to answer the many wonders I have on this new discovery. It would be interesting to see how the audience would cheer on a team or an athlete when they can not hear the encouragement. I also wonder how much being deaf would affect your athletic ability because I'm sure it would be a challenge, but not quite like missing a limb or being blind. However along with being deaf usually means you are mute as well so that could affect the communication between athletes and coached. I guess I will need to watch them to answer my own questions. I'm thinking Students Live's next project?

As the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games are coming to a close, we can look forward to the 2015 Deaflympics right here in the same host city!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Life of a Pin Trader

On the seabus and downtown was the journey yesterday in hopes of getting on that popular Robson Square zip-line. Eight hours was what the sign next to us read, and I wasn't willing to wait in line 8 hours for a 20 second ride, so we opted out. As cool as it would have been to have a birds eye view of the city, I don't think I could have wasted half of my day in that line-up.

Instead I used the day to live the life of a pin trader. I learned all kinds of stuff and it was a neat experience. I talked to many of the pin traders, some were quite cranky and others were very friendly, but they were all interesting people. One guy I talked to has been collecting pins since Calgary '88 and has been at every Olympic Games since. He knows pins like the back of his hands, every night he checks each and every one of his pins' values on EBay, and I tell you that can't be an easy job judging by the numbers. This man in particular was so negative towards the Beijing Olympic Games, he said he was there trading pins but he couldn't stand it so he didn't even stay for the whole time. He said he didn't like how dirty it was and the people were so rude. It was really interesting because to this day, he still won't trade anyone for a Beijing pins, to him they are worthless. I can understand if he didn't enjoy the Beijing Games but does that really have any effect on the pins?

I couldn't imagine how pin trading would give them enough money to fly to an Olympic and Paralympic Games every 2 years. I was tempted to ask him if this was his job or if it was just a hobby but I was afraid I might sound offensive in some way. I find it unbelievable that selling and trading pins would make someone enough money to live off of; but then again they are out there every single day of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and taking it very seriously so it makes you wonder? The pins range in price from about 3 dollars to 100 dollars, can you believe it, $100 for a single pin? These traders say it's just like alcohol or gambling, it's an addiction.

I will admit it was fun and interesting to spend a few hours as a pin trader, but I couldn't imagine doing that all day, every 27 days of these Winter Games.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We're on Fire

I think I speak on behalf of all Canadians when I say Lauren Woolstencroft has made us proud. Today marked her fifth gold in a single Paralympic Games, and set a new Paralympic record. And to add to it, she's a North Vancouverite! Lauren competed in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G and women's super combined and medaled, make that gold medaled in all of them. That doesn't leave much room for improvement in the 2014 Games! This unstoppable skier, skis on prosthetic legs as she was born with no legs from the knee down, and only half an arm on one side. Judging by the speed and grace this young woman skis with, you would have never guessed she was missing so many limbs.

As for Brian McKeever, his disappointing Olympic Games are over and he has moved onto his Paralympic competitions. Brian is at 2 golds for Canada in these Winter Games and with the help of his brother Robyn McKeever as his guide the pair have been unstoppable.

Just like Lauren Woolstennroft, Viviane Forest also has 5 Paralympic medals. Viviane's are not pure gold but she's done amazingly well! Viviane has won a bronze, 3 silver and a gold, all in the alpine events with the help of her guide Lindsay Debou. I witnessed first hand Viviane's bronze in the giant slalom event, and an amazing skier she was. Her calm manner while flying down the hill at top speeds was tremendous.

All together our Canadian athletes have brought us home 9 golds, 5 silvers and 4 bronze to total a whopping 18 Paralympic medals. Just as in the Olympic Games, Canada has been owning the podium and making all Canadians proud!


It might be accurate to say that every Canadian was hoping to see Canada win all 3 gold medals in the hockey events. After the conclusion of the Olympic Games, all was good, but since Thursday those dreams were shattered. Canada's sledge hockey team lost 3-1 to Japan, of all countries, in the semi-finals which knocked them out of running. Today they played for bronze, and I know I thought it was a sure win, but I guess I was wrong. Canada lost 2-1 to Norway. Although the sledge team may not have done as well as us Canadians wanted, they did have a great tournament. I think Canadian expectations were too high.

Unfortunately I did not get to see Canada play live, but I did watch their games on TV. I will say Canada played amazingly in all of their games. They are aggressive, they were fast, they could stick handle and pass like a team. I don't think it was for lack of effort that we did not medal, and there's no chance in my mind that it was due to lack of talent. The 2010 Canadian sledge hockey team was talented, and hard working, but I just think Canada doesn't dominate this sport as much as regular ice hockey. I think some teams in this tournament have really proven themselves and came out to be shockingly good. The Japanese and Korean for example.

I kind of feel bad for the poor team. Canada put so much pressure on them, expecting the third gold in hockey. The team played well and tried their best, and that's all we could ask for. I hope they don't feel like they've let down our country because they played amazing and tried so hard, and that's all we could have asked for. We are proud of you boys! And Sochi 2014 will be our time to shine.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Day of Culture

Biscuits and tea anyone?

My day was spent with a group of 5 highschool students from London, England. They are here with a group called A New Direction which is very similar to the Students Live group, only a quarter of the size.

As fun as it was sharing our experience reporting, I think what was even better yet was exchanging our differences in language. We say elevator, they say lift. We say truck, they say lorry. We had a blast comparing our lingo, and our cultural differences. People think between Canada and England there is not a lot of differences, but after sharing our stories today, I have learned otherwise. We discovered the schools in England are a lot more strict than here in Canada. At a public school there, you wear a strict uniform and it is forbidden to use an ipod.

An interesting topic we got started on was; what comes to mind when we think of London, and vice versa. To the English kids, Canada reminded them of maple leaves, and to us when we thought of London, the first thing that came to mind was the Queen. It turns out, they don't even know all that much about the Queen after all. They learned that we don't live in igloos here, and we don't drink drink maple syrup or have pet polar bears. And did you know they don't play quidditch in England... who would have thought?

Other than our English language differences, we also talked about the Paralympic Games (you know what we were supposed to be discussing). Both groups admitted that we weren't all that knowledgeable about the Paralympic Games before they happened, but we are learning so much and having a great time. We know that Vancouver has been the best yet to try to promote the Paralympic Games as well as the Olympics, but we are all hoping London will take it even one step further. The students were saying how there hasn't been many signs and posters up in London yet, but like here they will probably start to get more advertisement and excitement withing a year of their start.

A highlight of my day was speaking with Sarah Hunter, a Canadian Wheelchair tennis player. She was so down to earth and willing to talk to us, but in hind sight, it was probably a little intimidating for her. There were about 20 of us surrounding her and interrogating her with questions. She was so good with her words and relaxed infront of the camera that we talked to her for quite a long time. She expressed how it annoys her when people slow down their speach or talk to her like she's a child just because she's in a wheelchair. And how some people don't even consider her an athlete, when truthfully the Paralymic athletes are more amazing and inspiring than the Olympic ones. She told us about how hard it is to travel with her wheelchair equipment, as airplanes often destroy her wheelchairs and won't replace it; but aside from that she can no longer compete in the competition as each wheelchair is specialized and you can't just go out and buy one that works for you. It made me think how there is so much more to the athletes than you see, the everyday troubles they have to overcome and how they are still so strong, it's amazing!

Following that interview at LiveCity, we took the Londoners to visit the Canadian Mint. This was my second time visiting, but this time it was located at the Vancouver Public Library. The history of the medals never seize to amaze me, and everytime I learn something new. Did you know there were 625 Olympic medals made and 399 Paralympic medals made, and each and every one of them is unique.

At the Mint we also talked to a policeman who is from Ottawa but working here for the Games. He said how there were 4000 cops brought in from all over North America, and how he met so many new people. No wonder there were about 8 cops at every street corner. He said his favourite part was how he was always working with someone and was never alone like on his usual job. He told us his job is a lot less crazy now that the Olympic Games are over, but it's still a lot of fun.

Our last stop of the day was at the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron, only my tenth visit there, yet everytime I can't resist a photo. I wonder what is going to happen to the Cauldron after the Games, I hope it stays up as a city souvenir.

A Close Game

Well that was unexpected! Korea beating Sweden in a hockey game? I find it hard to believe, but I witnessed it with my own eyes.

It was a really good game, and very evenly matched which was not expected. The crowd was even too, about 50/50 cheering for Korea and Sweden. Whenever a chant started "Lets go Sweden" it was always morphed to "Lets go Korea". Personally I didn't really care who won this game, but by the end of the game I was cheering for Sweden just because they were down and we were hoping to see overtime and possibly even a shootout.

The last few minutes were so intense, both teams were fighting until the very buzzer. In the last thirty seconds Sweden had so many chances, and were so close to putting one in, including one post! We were saying how it could have ended like the Olympic gold medal game, with a goal in the last 20 seconds. Even with all those chances, and 6 men on the ice, and a pulled goalie, Sweden just couldn't quite shove it in; this was in no means due to a lack of effort. Too bad, I would have liked to see all that effort being payed off. But you know, I wasn't all that upset with the final score, just shocked. Korea? Anyways, a great spectators game that's for sure!

Canada plays in the Semi's tomorrow, that's all that matters. I'd say the official road to gold begins tomorrow. GO CANADA!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Comparing and Contrasting

Liquid sunshine would sum up the weather today, but minus the weather, it was a wonderful day! It was the first event I have attended at Whistler, in fact any mountain event for that matter, and a great event it was.

Driving along the sea-to-sky highway on our way to Creekside, we were talking about how different the atmosphere is at the Paralympic Games compared to the Olympic Games. We talked about how at the Olympic Games, when Canada won a medal, the entire country knew about it with seconds, people were texting eachother "Did you hear about our gold?" And now at the Paralympic Games people barely even get excited over it.

An example of this is after the Women's Giant Slalom Visually Impaired, Canada came in third place which is amazing considering Canada's Viviane Forest fell in both of her races but managed to be fast enough to make up for it. Anyways, the commentator kind of announced who was in first, second and third, but they didn't really emphasize that these were the medal winners, and it wasn't until the next event started that we realized we had won a Paralympic medal. The crowd was obviously cheering, but it wasn't the same as at the Olympics where everyone would be whipping out their phones to update their friends.

Another difference we noticed with the Paralympics is that the crowd isn't so predominantly Canadian, there is much more diversity with the fans. We were trying to figure out why this might be; maybe because Canadians are partied out from the Olympic Games. or because there are less fans watching, then the groups from other countries stand out more? What are your thoughts?

Chris Williamson of Canada was 0.4 seconds away from medaling, which is super close for Paralympic Alpine Races, because another thing we noticed is the difference in racers in the Paralympics is a matter of a few seconds, and in the Olympics it was a matter of just milliseconds. For instance Canada's Viviane Forest was 9 seconds slower than the silver medalist who was 6 seconds behind first, where as in the Olympic Games it was a matter of 0.8 seconds between first and eleventh places.

Another difference between the two Games has been the security, I'm sure you heard about the huge amounts of security for the Olympic Games and now for the Paralympic Games there is absolutely none, you simply walk right into the venue. But besides from the actually venue security, even the athletes protection is much less. After these Paralympians raced they just came out into the public accessibility areas and talked with people, and they have no security or anything, you would have never seen that in the Olympic Games. Also the athletes seem more willing to talk to people, and it seems like they are enjoying the attention a little bit more than we saw with the Olympic athletes.

So as you have read there are plenty of differences between the two segments of the 2010 Winter Games, however there are many similarities as well. Something I learned the other day was that Paralympic means "parallel" as in parallel to the Olympic Games. So these games are related however they have their differences, and I think between the two of them, Vancouver 2010 will cater to everyone's interests and will be a huge success!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Some Remarkable Stories

I have now been to 2 Wheelchair Curling Games courtesy of VANOC and I now have a better sense of how the sport works.

What might be even more interesting than the sport itself is the stories behind each and every athlete. After seeing our four Canadian curlers for the second time and seeing how amazing they are at what they do, I decided to look further into their histories.

Our women:

Ina Forrest and Sonja Gaudet

Ina Forrest is the teams "Second" and is from Armstrong, BC. Being a mother of 3 and owning her own business, Ina says the hardest thing about being an elite athlete is the time commitment. "Life is a journey so plan a great trip" is Ina's life motto, I think this says something about the drive and perseverance she has. When Ina was 21 years old she was hit by a car driven by an impaired driver which left her a paraplegic. It was in a Costco where a man approached Ina and stated that she should consider taking up wheelchair curling. She admitted that the sport didn't excite her all that much until she tried it for herself, then 2 weeks later she was hooked. Ina and teammate Sonja Gaudet curl in the same club in Vernon against able-bodied curlers.

Sonja Gaudet was on the Paralympic team in 2006 when Wheelchair Curling made its Paralympic debut, and Canada brought home the gold. Sonja is a North Vancouver baby, but now lives in Vernon, BC. She continues to row, bike, swim, play basketball and tennis even after her accident which claimed the use of her legs. Sonja was paralyzed after a fall from a horse which left her with severe spinal cord injuries. It wasn't until after the accident that Sonja got involved with curling, and almost the first time on the ice Sonja knew this was the sport for her. Sonja is an ambassador with the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. She also has a strong interest in accessibility issues. Sonja is currently a mother of two teenagers and she always says how her family comes first; her curling schedule must revolve around the lives of her family members.

Our Men:

Darryl Neighbour and Jim Armstrong

Darryl Neighbour is team Canada's "third", and is a paraplegic after falling from a roof in 2000. He is an ambassador of the Rick Hansen foundation and curls with two clubs: the Richmond Curling Club, and the Marpole Curling Club in Vancouver. Darryl is also a spokesperson for BC Wheelchair Sports, which makes his one very busy man. To top it all off, Darryl comes from a family of 7 girls and 7 boys. It was just 6 years ago that Darryl took up the sport and now he is hoping for a gold here in Vancouver with the help of his teammate Jim Armstrong who he says has lots of knowledge and experience in the game. At the age of 61, Darryl is probably one of the oldest athletes competing in these Games.

Jim Armstrong is known as a gentle giant and is the "skip" for our Canadian Wheelchair Curling team. To him, it doesn't seem like long ago that he was competing in the Brier, but things suddenly changed after a brutal car accident in 2003. After the accident Jim said he had no need or no interest in going to the rink, and it left a huge hole in his life. Jim missed the sport and the rink, but mostly the people, he said the social aspect was the hardest to get used to. Armstrong thought the rest of his life would be curling-free, and it wasn't until a former teammate suggested the sport that it even crossed his mind. Although Jim is happy to be competing in the Paralympic Games, it isn't all easy; he was in another car accident recently and is still recovering from a shoulder injury, and to top it all off, Jim just recently lost his wife to cancer. Armstrong says he wants to win the gold for his wife who has been so supportive, and just last year she stated that she only wanted one more thing from her life, and that was to see him compete in the 2010 Paralympic Games.

After this team of remarkable athletes played an amazing game against the Norwegians I had the chance to talk to Sonja Gaudet.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Day of Firsts

For me, it was a day of firsts.
Today I attended my first ice sledge hockey game and my first wheelchair curling game.
I was fairly uneducated about both of these sports before the events, but after I had a much better understanding.
What I learned today:
- the benches in sledge hockey are made of ice rather than rubber
- wheelchair curling is co-ed
- in sledge hockey there's a penalty called "teeing" which is given to a player who charges an opponent using any part of the front of their sled
- wheelchair curling does not involve sweeping
- sledge hockey is three 15 minute periods, instead of 20 minute periods like in ice hockey
- 4 games of curling go on at the same time, which I would have found very hard to follow except for the fact that my eyes were fixed on the Canada vs. USA game
- there is no women's sledge hockey
- the face-offs in sledge hockey are taken with the players sitting sideways

I know being a Paralympic reporter and all, I should probably have know all these rules, but I've never even seen any of these sports on TV so how would I know. I think that all people are going to learn a lot from these Paralympic Games, and maybe these Games will be the start of worldwide Paralympic knowledge.

From the stands at the Vancouver Paralympic Center I could hear everyone asking one-another about how the score works or even if they know what's going on. It was quite obvious that there wasn't a huge percentage of the crowd who knew about the sport of curling. I am sure though that by the end of the game, people were a lot more knowledgeable about the sport. It was cool to see how everyone was slowly figuring out how the game works. After every end, the crowd had learned something new.

I'm excited for the days to come where I will be learning so much more, and so will the rest of the world!

Another highlight of my day was at the Vancouver Paralympic Center when I went down to the wheelchair accessibility viewing area to visit Kate. We were talking about her run with the torch, then it just to happened that another one of the boys with us at the moment was also a torchbearer, and to the left of us was another curling spectator who also happened to carry the torch. That's 3 Paralympic torchbearers within about 3 meters of eachother! They were all sharing their memories from the relay, they all had amazing stories and memories to last a lifetime. I loved listening to them saying how that might have been the single greatest moment of their lives. What a cool feeling to be sharing that with one-another!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Night to Remember

"One Inspires Many" was the motto of the Ceremonies tonight. And how true is that. From the Rick Hansen story, to the Terry Fox, all the athletes, to the 15 year old boy lighting the flame, from the one legged rocker to the wheelchair skateboarders. One really does inspire many. By the end of the night, after witnessing all those amazing people right in front of my eyes, I found it hard not to be inspired.

Maybe the highlight of the whole performance for me was Betty and Rolly Fox strolling into B.C. Place, torch in hand. It almost brought tears to my eyes. Or maybe it was the 15 year-old boy with dreams of one day being in the Paralympic Games, or maybe it was all the ordinary children dancing in unison and being a part of a bigger picture. Whatever it was, it's too hard to choose, as the entire performance was absolutely mind blowing. What was the highlight for you?

I'd say at the end of the show I was pretty star-struck, maybe not quite as much as I would have been if I had attended the Olympic Openings, but with huge names such as Martin Deschamps, Dal Richards, Nikki Yanofsky, Fefe Dobson and Rick Hansen, I'd say we showcased some pretty amazing Canadian talent. Nikki Yanofsky sang the "I Believe" song which was very popular during the Olympic Games, and tonight I got to sing alongside Nikki. I was with 2000 other singers. I felt like I was just one of the two thousand in the red robes, and that nobody would notice me. That might be true, but I got to be a part of something big, something spectacular, and I will never forget the moment when just minutes after I'm sitting there taking pictures of the athletes, they are turned around taking pictures of me singing. What a magical moment to be a part of, a small part it might have been, but together we did it, we made something beautiful!

For those of you who were wondering along with me, yes the opening breakdancer had a disability. You could most definitely not tell by the amount of mobility he had and his overall ability, but that's what tonight was all about; showcasing the "ability" rather than the "disability". Break dancer Luca (Lazylegz) Patuelli of Montreal, was born with arthrogryposis and diagnosed with scoliosis in his childhood.

Now as great as these Ceremonies were, I think there's some that could have been taken out. Maybe the single tone in unison was unnecessary or Sumi flying through the air. Don't get me wrong, I love Sumi, and his part was cute, but it maybe could have been cut a little shorter and without the cheesy whispers of "Suummiiiii". Anyways, quit the complaining, I really enjoyed how the entire show was so audience participated. We had pompoms we had to wave, we had gold reflectors we had to flash, we even had to get up and dance. I thought the effect of everyone's red and orange lights looked super cool. I heard some complaints about having to wear these uncomfortable ponchos, but they made a really cool picture throughout the crowd, and I thought it was a really neat idea.

Overall I think Canada did a really nice job organizing these Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. We made history in that these were the first ever Paralympic Opening Ceremonies to be televised! And to add to the Canadian pride section, Canada had the most athletes walk across the stage during the athlete's parade. The final moment where they were saying "Welcome to the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, the first in Canada!" At that moment I felt proud to be involved in something so legendary, and will remember this night for the rest of my life!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Sneak Peak

Today, all day, I was at the dress rehearsals for the Opening Ceremonies. Because I am sworn to secrecy all I can tell you is they are going to be amazing! Tune into them tomorrow night at 6 o'clock or buy some last minute tickets and go catch them live. I would say they are going to be at least as good as the Olympic ones if not better; and hopefully there won't be a cauldron malfunction!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Man in Motion

He's wheeled past the Eiffel Tower, he's wheeled past the leaning tower of Pisa, he's wheeled across the Golden Gate Bridge and the Great Wall of China. Tonight I saw this legendary man speak at his former post-secondary school of UBC.

If you don't know who I'm talking about yet maybe this will help, have you ever heard of the Man in Motion? Yes, that's right the amazing Rick Hansen!

Saying he's inspiring is an understatement. Saying he's remarkable is just too true. I left that room of the Chan Centre tonight speechless; he made me think about what I can do, because you know "Anything is Possible".

I've never heard a speaker who could be so humorous, so captivating and so inspiring at the same time. And he was humble too!

He said that people with disabilities have abilities, and that no-where in the rules of sport says that you have to use your legs. What powerful words.

After his speech, there were crowds swarming him to ask questions and take photos. When we got to the front of the crowd, instead of being annoyed with us, Rick seemed genuinely happy to meet us. When we were asking questions, he didn't look like our words were meaningless to him, but rather he was actually interested in what we have to say. No matter how many people asked for his autograph, he never once lost his patience, but every time looked like he was enjoying the people he was meeting. I think the world needs some more genuinely kind people like Rick. And his smile too, would just brighten your day.

Before we walked into the theatre, we were talking about how there are 5 sports in the Paralympic Games compared to the 15 in the Olympic Games. Since 1948 when the Paralympic Games first started with one sport, we have come a long way, but what's stopping them from growing even bigger? Why could they not include sledge speed skating, or ski cross, snowboarding or luge? I know that it's not the technology that's holding us back, so what is? Is it a financial thing, is it that people just don't put in the effort? So I asked Rick if he thinks the future looks bright for more sport inclusion in the future Paralympic Games. His answer was that yes, there's no doubt about it that the Paralympic Games are growing and in time there will be many more events, it takes time. The process of getting a sport included in the Games is a long battle. It usually takes many years, but just like ski-cross in these Olympic Games, eventually they will be included. And it most certainly isn't the technology that's holding us back, we all know that.

The part of Rick's speech which hit me the hardest was when he was talking about his accident back when he was 16 years old. He said how he went to the hospital after not being able to feel his legs and the doctors said to him "Well Rick, you've injured your spine and you will never walk again." He said "Oh well that could be a challenge." And yes, it was a challenge, but it was a challenge that Rick overcame and then some. Very few people have ran across the entire globe, and even fewer have with no legs, and that is why Rick Hansen is such a legend. But not only that; while most would sit there feeling sorry for themselves, Rick took the opportunity to create a change in the world. He thought of the accident more as an opportunity than as an obsicle. He would be the one to prove that someone with a disability is capable of anything the average person can do. He would be the one to equalize people with disabilities to people without. Overall he would be the one to prove that "Anything is Possible".

You know that someone has done great things when they were chosen as one of the final torchbearers for the Olympic Games, and you know someone has done great work when this month will be the 25th Anniversary of the Man in Motion World Tour, which was the start of the outstanding progress in spinal cord injury research. In those 25 years, Canada has become a world leader in treatment, research and quality of life initiatives. Though we still have work to do before all people with disabilities can have full accesibility and participation in the world, and before every person can recover from a spinal cord injury and lead a normal life. But there's no doubt in my mind that in the near future Rick’s dream of a cure for spinal cord injury and a fully accessible and inclusive world will be be succeeded.

If you believe in a dream and have the courage to try, great things can be accomplished. Anything is possible. - Rick Hansen

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Change of Moods

Do you remember that feeling you got walking downtown before the Olympic Games started? How you could feel the city getting pumped up, and everyday you were more and more excited.

And do you remember that feeling when the Olympic Games ended? How everyone was dreading going back to reality.

I will admit, until yesterday I was still in that post-Olympic depression. But yesterday I switched over from that mood, to the Paralympic excitement stage.

First off I got to see the Paralympic torch relay as it was coming off the Peak to Peak gondola. Kirsten Sharp who was carrying the torch was in tears as she wheeled out the doors, being greeted by hundreds of people cheering, and later belting out O'Canada. I overheard an interview she was having with a reporter. She said it felt great to be back in Whistler with the sun shining, this is one of her favourite places in the world despite her traumatizing experience here. She had a skiing accident 19 years ago on this very mountain which left her a paraplegic. Obviously that moment 19 years ago has changed her life, however she said it isn't necessarily a negative thing. She doesn't see anything disabling about a disability, "you just have to have the determination to do it."

Next I hit up the celebrations at the village. There was much going on there, but I think the biggest hit was being able to get your pictures taken with the torches. There were so many torchbearers all over the place with their torches who were just delighted to have their pictures taken with you.

At Village Square there was live music, performances, and most importantly the lighting of the cauldron. Of course this was "unofficial" because the Games haven't started yet, but it was great to see all the people out, re-amping the spirit.

Sitskier Kees-Jan van der Klooster of the Netherlands was at the relay soaking up some of the spirit. I took the opportunity to talk to him, and ask him a few questions. K-J will be competing in the downhill, giant slalom and super-G in these Paralympic Games. I asked how he got involved with the Paralympic Games, and his reply was "Back in 2001, I had a snowboard accident in France and broke my back. Now I'm paralysed from the waist down, I wasn't going to let that keep me off the mountains so I decided to get into sit skiing." It was only one year after the accident that K-J got into sitwakeboarding and two years after he get into sit-skiing. K-J is now 33 years old, and seems to have a need for speed, his motto is "No fear!!" and his favourite quote is “Ride it like ya stole it!!” K-J was such a down-to-earth guy, it was great to talk to him. When asked if he had any superstitions, K-J said "If you don't have them, they won't let you down."

K-J won a gold medal in 2008 at the "MonoskierX winter X Games 12" in Aspen. And that same year won a gold in sitwakeboarding at the "Extremity Games Michigan". He is also the only athlete representing the Netherlands at these Paralympic Games, but I think he is a strong medal contender, and should do his country proud.

Did you know the first Paralympic Games were held in 1948, and most of these athletes were veterans of World War 2? I learned this from the big blow-up igloo in the Village which has all sorts of Paralympic information and interesting facts, and young kids could even take some shots as a sledge hockey player.

Here is the beautiful Paralympic rings in Whistler:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Exciting Encounter

Today as I was trekking down the slopes of Whistler, I spotted a group of skiers all with matching jackets, as I got closer I noticed they were Russia jackets, and as I got even closer I noticed that many of them were missing a leg. This is when I got really excited, I realized that I had spotted the Russian Paralympic Ski Team!

Trying to be as subtle as possible I followed one of them down the run. This lady was on one leg, and had two poles with mini-skis on the ends of them for balance. I was amazed at how graceful she looked racing down the hill, on one leg I can't even imagine how hard that would be. And she was going so fast too, I found it hard to keep up. Eventually I gave up following her, as I was falling behind, and I thought I was beginning to be a little creepy.

Then, a few hours down the road, I saw two more Russian jackets, but this time they both had a full pair of legs. I thought they were just some random Russians but it turns out they were also on the Paralympic team. One of these ladies was blind and the other was her guide. I could see the microphone on the guide so that she can call out commands to her athlete; briefing her of turns, bumps, and obsticles. It was so interesting to see how someone who is visually impaired can dodge all these people skiing down the hill. And it just got me thinking, what would happen if someone comes flying out infront of the skier, and her guide doesn't have time to tell her to stop, or if someone falls right infront of her. Thinking about it, there is so many things that could go wrong, but I find it amazing that you don't hear about more accidents. It was such a cool thing to watch the team in action and it is really a fascinating concept!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lifesaving Sports

Waneek Horn-Miller, Valerie Jerome, Sharon Firth and Shirley Firth. What do these 4 ladies have in common? One, they're all amazing athletes and two, they're all inspiring individuals.

It just so happens that each of them are First Nations, Aboriginal or black skinned, but that doesn't matter, that does not make them any different from other people out there. This is what Waneek was trying to say in her speech last night. She talked about how she had to work 150% harder than any other athlete just to make the Olympic team. She said that every practice was a trial, and she always had to be on her best game. This is true for any other athlete too, it's just that people were harder on Waneek because of the colour of her skin. The Firth sisters kept making jokes about how Waneek chose the wrong sport. In water polo you are judged on how good you are, and it is a personal preference who is the best, but in cross country skiing, your skin colour is not a factor because you are being judged only by a intricate little instrument which cannot see the colour of your skin.

For Waneek Horn-Miller sports have been a way of proving athleticism for her entire race; proving that First Nations people are just as talented as everybody else. She repeated multiple times that sports saved her life. She believes that if her mother had not got her involved with sports she would not be in a good place right now.

After listening to Waneek last night, I was so inspired. She stated that you do not have to be an Olympian to benefit from sports, and that is so true to my life. I have made some of my closest friends through sports, I have found what I love to do, and I have learned a sense of teamwork, dedication and determination. Waneek was saying that the most successful people in the world usually played sports in their childhood because sport teaches you how to work well with others.

At the time of Waneek's childhood, not a lot of First Nations were involved in sport and she was one of the first to start the trend. She said with so much pride that sport is now a huge part of the Aboriginal culture. She said it brought tears to her eyes when she saw the First Nations portion of the Opening Ceremonies. To think back to when she was a kid, and how they were not accepted on sports teams or even in society, and now they are showcasing their art and culture at the largest sporting event in the world.

One main thing Waneek emphasized was that when you're out on the playing field, on the ice, or on the track, it no longer matters what race you come from, you are now just athletes and teammates. This is why Waneek encourages all parents to start their kids off in sports at a young age, because the younger your kids are introduced to multi-culturalism the more accepting they will be. Waneek is soon to be a mother herself, and she said the day her child can walk, they will be involved in sport.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Paralympic Torch Relay

Very exciting day!
The 2010 Paralympic torch relay began today in Ottawa. This relay will be a 10-day journey with over 600 torchbearers, and will visit 11 communities.

If you can look back to before those 17 crazy days, you'd remember that the Olympic torch relay was a 106-day journey with 12,000 torchbearers and visited 1,000 communities.

In a perfect world I would love to see the Paralympic Games to be just as big and recognized as the Olympic Games, however in reality, I don't think that's going to happen. But I do think it is a little ridiculous that the Paralympic Torch Relay is 96 days shorter, has 20 times less torchbearers and visits about one hundredth of the communities. What kind of message is that conveying to people? Do you think that this is part of the problem?

I realize that Canada has done the most out of any of the host countries to try to include the Paralympic Games, and prove that they are just as worth-while as the Olympic Games. As much as Vancouver has done though, I believe they could do a little more, and whether people would buy it, is out of anyone's control, but the effort would be nice to see. What do you think?

On a lighter note, the opening day of the Paralympic torch relay was a great one! Every one of the 13 provinces and territories sent one honourable citizen to carry the torch on the opening day.

British Columbia Rick Mercer; comedian
Alberta Dr. Robert Steadward; Founding president of the International Paralympic Committee
Saskatchewan Jasmine Gerein; daughter of seven-time Paralympian Clayton Gerein
Manitoba Jared Funk; medal-winning Paralympian
Ontario Justin Hines; singer-songwriter
Quebec Dean Bergeron; Paralympic wheelchair racer
Newfoundland and Labrador Erica Noonan; swimmmer
New Brunswick Sabrina Pettinicchi Durepos; four-time Paralympian and wheelchair basketball player
Nova Scotia Chelsea Gotell; swimmer
Prince Edward Island Colin MacLeod; ice sledge hockey player
Yukon Rick Goodfellow; advocate for the rights of people with disabilities
Northwest Territories Katherine Elkin; para-swimmer
Nunavut Simon Koomak; golfer

The Cauldron will be lit at BC Place on March 12th, tune into the Opening Ceremonies at 6:00pm to see the legacy being born.

Here is a comparison of the Paralympic and Olympic torch and uniform. They are identical, except for the colour and logos.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The People not the Place

Vancouver; known for it's lush forests, vast mountain range, our friends the black bears, the beautiful coastline, and now for the 2010 Winter Games.

Tourist who were here for the Games and even the local Vancouverites said that they love this city. They say that it is the only place in the world where you can see forest, ocean, wildlife, mountains and sky rises in the same snapshot. It is just like we say "The Best Place on Earth".

But I think the thing that is loved the most about Vancouver is not only the scenery, but also the people. The citizens of Vancouver are some of the most interesting there is, we are so diverse in culture, race and religion. We are accepting of others and open minded to differences.

Some tourists from London were saying that when you walk down the streets in Vancouver everyone smiles and says "hello", and that is something you don't often see in London. They said it made them feel really great; tiny gestures like that go a long way.

Here are some examples of the interesting people you find in Vancouver.

Some Canadians showing their love for every stranger.

A new charity campaign.

A guy with his goat.