Spirit in Motion-Paralympics Motto
In case you didn't know, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralymics started on Friday. I wish NBC would cover the events live, rather just do nothing but a delayed tape broadcast of a smaller part of the opening ceremony the following Saturday. I'm really disgusted with NBC and the International Olympics Committee. If they didn't want to broadcast the Paralympics, then there shouldn't have been any buying and selling of broadcast rights in the first place! I'm sure other local stations would've gladly broadcasted the ongoing Paralympic Games. Luckily, there is some live coverage going online, so I've had to go there to catch up on what's going on with the games.
How about that opening ceremony for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics? Just fantastic and so moving! Magnificent job, Canada! Though the acts and performers were smaller in size compared to the winter Olympics, they made the experience much more welcoming and celebratory. Those children were so amazing and absolutely enthusiastic in their performances, cheering on the athletes and exciting the crowd.
I'm looking for my babies daddies; those mofos owe me child support!
And some of those performances were stunning! How about that break dancer Lucas (Lazylegz) Patuelli? His break dancing moves were spectacular! That dude's got some serious strength and awesome style!
And of course, my fave thing at the opening ceremony, the Parade of Nations!
These athletes came out in style with the hot wheels!
As you probably know by now, I'm a big fan of the Olympics. That passion extends to the Paralympics as well. Whereas I am excited and amazed by the feats of great athletes in the Olympics, I am inspired and moved by the incredible athletes of the Paralympics.
I had no idea what the Paralympics were until I was in high school. We didn't have that where I grew up; and there was really no media coverage. But I was aware of the Special Olympics, a totally different and separate event. In the Special Olympics, all participants get a medal, because they're all winners for their efforts. In the Paralympics, top athletes compete for gold, silver, and bronze in their fields, and some have set world records in their events, even qualifying for the Olympics!
Did you know that Brian McKeever, of Alberta, Canada, actually qualified to compete in the Vancouver Olympics in cross country skiing? The 30 year old is legally blind. He is a famous Paralympian, and he became the first Canadian Paralympian ever to qualify to participate in the Olympics. Two years ago at the Beijing Olympics, two female Paralympians qualified to compete--Poland's Natalia Partyka, born without a right forearm and hand, competed in women's table tennis. In China, where the unofficial national sport is table tennis (ping pong), they dubbed her 'The Respectable Lady' for her amazing skills, wowing the nation with her prowess. South Africa's Natalie Du Toit was a 17 year old favored to qualify for the Athens Olympics, only to lose her left lower leg when a car crashed into her on her way home from practice. But she adapted and made history as one of the first athletes to ever qualify to compete for both the Paralympics and the Olympics. These athletes are truly astonishing for their stunning achievements, and I can only imagine how many more of them will make it to the London and Sochi Olympics!
Though I wasn't aware of the Paralympics until I was much older, I was familiar with a separate, different event, the Special Olympics. When I was a small child, my family would often go to the Special Olympics to cheer the participants on. We had several reasons for going. My parents liked to volunteer a lot in the community, and I did enjoy going to the events. It was much better than the road and beach clean up projects my parents often took us to. Who wants to pick up trash on a Saturday morning? Saturday morning is designated cartoon time! The Special Olympics volunteering was much more fun for me. And for a short while, we had someone close who was in the Special Olympics.
One of my cousins was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. When I was a very small child, I remembered that my cousin could walk and run and jump when we played. He was just a few years older than me, and he was always nice to me. I thought that he was so cool; probably because we didn't fight as much as I did with my brother, who was just a year older than me. Just typical childish sibling rivalry. Whereas my brother sometimes didn't want me tagging along, my cousin let me hang out with him and his friends.
And as we got older, my cousin got weaker. He started to lose strength in his legs. By the time I was twelve, my cousin was in a wheelchair, unable to walk. He was in and out of hospitals a lot, and back then children weren't allowed to visit the ward. But I remember one time when my Mom sneaked me in through the back door and I got to hang out with my cousin while my Mom and aunt visited outside of the room. He was really happy to see me, and we had fun just talking and playing. He was blowing bubbles and I would try to either fan them to make them go higher or just pop as many as I could. We had so much fun that visit, laughing and telling each other jokes, talking about everything and nothing at all. It's one my favorite memories of hanging out with him. A month later, he started to lose strength in his arms. Soon after he got weaker and was hospitalized more. And when I started high school, his body could no longer contain his spirit and he passed away. He was just a few days shy of his 17th birthday.
When I heard of his passing that morning, I didn't go to school. Instead, I went up to one of my favorite spots on the mountain where I escaped to when I needed some solitude, to either cool off or just dream and watch the horizon. I needed to be alone. I went there to mourn. It was one of the few times in high school that I actually broke down and cried. I wished that I had spent much more time with him. And I wished that I could've done something more.
I've been a volunteer and supporter of the Special Olympics for most of my life. It's one of the few family traditions that I've kept. It's very rewarding and heartfelt for me to be out there doing something positive for someone, to see them smile.
In 1996, the Centennial Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta, Georgia. I was fortunate enough to get a job working that summer in support of the Olympic games. It was an incredible experience! It was my first time in a big metropolitan city--one that had a train for public transit and places stayed open 24/7! I was able to watch the preliminary events when US was putting together their track team. And on days that we weren't working, I got to see some of the events that the company had access, like track & field, equestrian, and field hockey! I have to say, the Australian women's field hockey team was the sexiest team that summer! It was such an amazing experience to see the Olympics live and in person! And it was so much fun meeting people from all over the world who came to support the athletes and enjoy the games! For me, it was an impossible childhood fantasy come true! I was at the Olympics! What had captivated and thrilled me as a child watching it on tv was now a real life experience!
And when the Olympics were over, my company scaled down and asked for a few volunteers to stay behind and take down our temporary headquarters that was set up to support the games. I volunteered to stay. I was loving big city life! And I also volunteered for the Special Olympics when the company asked for some of us to go and show our support. It was so wonderful to see all these children participating. My friend and I were even assigned a little boy to look after and make sure he would make it to his event--a short race on the track. He was just 5, full of energy and so enthusiastic. He had cystic fibrosis. He was such a joy to work with, and my friend and I tried our best to keep him in happy spirits til the event was over and he was returned to his school bus. He had a big smile on his face as we waved him off, and he waved back before the bus turned on the road and left.
Later that night, I looked up what cystic fibrosis was, and I was saddened and horrified by what I learned. Back then, most people diagnosed with cystic fibrosis often passed away very young, just barely out of their teens. I was reminded of my cousin, and how short his life was. And I mourned for this little boy, knowing that the odds were so stacked against him. I mourned for his family. Every now and then, I'll go through my foto albums and stumble across the pictures from that Special Olympics in Atlanta. We were all smiling and laughing in those pictures, because we were having such a good time. And every time I see those pictures, I'd stop and wonder how this little boy is doing now, wishing that he was still full of enthusiasm and smiling happily wherever he is. I can only hope for the best. These days, they've made some progress in cystic fibrosis research. It's not a lot, but it has enabled some people to live well up the their 40s. And I'm hopeful they'll find a cure or that treatments get even better.
A few weeks after the Special Olympics, the company asked for volunteers for the Paralympics. My friends and I volunteered to go. It was my first time ever at the Paralympics, and it was one that I will never forget! It was an incredible event, such an emotional experience. I met so many great athletes who were doing such astounding feats!
I met so many wonderful people who inspired me. There were athletes with missing limbs from accidents or illnesses. They were fast and strong and skilled! They were running at amazing speeds with their metal prosthetics! They swam faster and stronger than most people who had all their limbs! The blind athletes were able to race while tethered to a guide! And those guides had to be in great shape to run those races! And they even had whistles and sounds to signal where the targets were so the visually impaired athletes could know where to aim and throw! Not just javelins and discus and hammers either. We're talking about shooting at targets with rifles and pistols! And they were damned accurate, too! There were even judo matches where those blind athletes kicked serious ass! I had known about wheelchair basketball, but I was stunned to witness wheelchair tennis! And there was a demonstration of wheelchair rugby, which is now an official Paralympic sport!
The Paralympics moved me because I was so inspired by these athletes. They lost limbs or were blind because of illnesses or accidents. Their bodies may have been altered, but their spirits and their determination were superhuman!
During the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 winter Paralympics, I felt so proud and moved as I watched those athletes march in to the applause of the cheering crowds. The American flag was carried by 30 year old Heath Calhoun. He is a retired army sergeant, a double amputee who lost both legs in the Iraq war. He will be going for gold in the alpine skiing event, and I will be cheering him on. He is but one of many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are taking part in the games. Everyone of them is a hero who sacrificed blood and body in service to their country. And now these heroes have found another way to continue to serve their country once more.
23 year old Toby Kane carried Australia's flag. He lost his lower right leg in car accident when when he was just two years old. He doesn't remember the accident, nor does he remember ever skiing with two legs. At 10 years old, he was discovered by talent scouts when he was skiing with his family on vacation. At 19, he was the youngest member of the Australian team four years ago in Torino, where he won a bronze in the Super G alpine skiing event. He's got a great chance at winning gold at the Vancouver Paralympics, where he is once again the youngest member of the Australian team.
There were so many heartfelt moments during the opening ceremony. And none was more poignant than seeing Terry Fox on the screen. When he was 18 years old, Terry Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer and had his right leg amputated. He learned that just a few years before, his chances of surviving cancer was 15 percent. Research had given him a 50 percent chance of now surviving his cancer. He realized then the importance of cancer research. The night before the surgery to remove his leg, he read an article about Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York Marathon. It would inspire him to do something great. Terry Fox was horrified to learn how little money there was for cancer research. He decided to do something that would help raise money for cancer research. So being a great athlete, he decided to train for a marathon. He came in last place, but his efforts moved the audience and competitors to tears and cheers. And from there, he soon started his Marathon of Hope, where he would raise money for cancer research by running across Canada.
What started out as a small movement by one person, soon grew into a national event. People didn't understand him at first; many doubted his commitment. He even skipped taking a day off for his 22nd birthday so he could keep running. He encountered rough weather and mean drivers and rude people when he started his journey. But as as the days and miles went on, more and more people began to show their support. By the middle of his journey, he had achieved fame as people learned of his incredible story. Thousands turned out to cheer him and donate money. The Prime Minister and Governor General met with him. He also met many of his heroes and national icons along his journey.
Halfway through his marathon across the country, his cancer returned. He fell ill and had to be hospitalized. He had run for a 143 days, nearly 3,300 miles (5,300 km). He had raised almost two million for cancer research while he was running. And while undergoing treatment in the hospital, donations poured in and he managed to raise over 24 million dollars. He planned on recovering and finishing his run. But it was not to be. He passed away on June 28, 1981, just one month shy of his 23rd birthday. Though he had passed on, he left behind an incredible legacy that inspired millions of people and has raised over 400 million dollars for cancer research.
His parents carried in the torch at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony. They lit the the other torches and helped select the person who would light the Paralympic cauldron. And that person was 15 year old Zach Beaumont from Delta, British Columbia.
Zach Beaumont is hoping to someday qualify for the Paralymics. He was born without a right tibia and knee joint. His right leg was amputated when he was just a baby. He is an avid snowboarder, cyclist, soccer player and swimmer. He hopes to compete in Paralympic snowboarding one day. I hope that the Paralympics include snowboarding for the Sochi 2014 winter Paralympics.
In 2012, the London Summer Olympics will take place. The Paralympics will take place there as well, coming full circle to their beginning. The founder of the Paralympic Games was Dr Ludwig Guttman. He was a gifted neurologist who fled Germany when the Nazis came to power. The British gov't asked him to set up the National Spinal Injuries Center in Stoke Mandeville near London. Dr Guttman believed that sports could be used as powerful tool in therapy, to build strength and self esteem. In 1948, on the day of opening ceremony of the the London Olympics, Dr Ludwig Guttmann organized a sporting event for the British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries. The athletes competed in wheelchairs in various track and field events. In 1952, The Dutch sent athletes to compete, making the event international. By 1960, over 20 countries participated in the games, and the first Paralympics were held in Rome, right after the Olympics.
I am very disappointed and disgusted with the lack of media coverage for the Paralympics. These are incredible athletes doing extraordinary feats! I am hoping that the 2012 London Olympics will highlight the return of the Paralympics to their roots. I am hoping that media will offer better coverage of the events, giving the Paralympics the honor and respect it deserves. The Paralympics is a worldwide successful event, and it's coming home to its humble roots. The Paralympians are an inspiration and a shining example of the indomitable human spirit. The Paralymics show us what we are capable of, no matter how hard life can get.
I have to admit that my eyes started to water when I saw 15 year old Zach Beaumont climb up to light the Paralympic cauldron. I was suddenly reminded of my cousin. The death of my cousin reminded me that I had so much more compared to others, and that I can do things that other people can't. I really shouldn't complain about walking somewhere far, because guess what? I can at least walk there using both feet. The Paralympics inspire me to do more. If these heroes can accomplish such great feats of strength, skill, and speed, then I can do better, too. I can overcome hardship and obstacles, I can be tougher. With my two arms, I can be stronger, I can lift things higher. With my two legs, I can go farther and faster. With my two eyes, I can see clearer and know where I'm going. With a focused mind and a fierce spirit, a beating heart and a passion for life, I can be more than I ever thought I could be.
The Paralympics is a testament that great heroes are not defined by how they look but by their great deeds. It is not our bodies that limit our potential; it is our mind and spirit that carry us farther and beyond the impossible. It's not just strength and speed that defines our heroes. It's their determination and dedication that inspires us all to to do better, to try harder, and to be the best that we can be.