There is a new symbol floating in Vancouver’s harbour right now representing the Paralympics. It is red, blue and green and represents the most widely used flag colours from around the world. It is a symbol that is in motion, circling around a centre point and complementing the Paralympic Motto “Spirit in Motion”. The Paralympics are well underway now, and so far, this event is proving to be just as exciting as the Olympics.
I had the opportunity this past weekend to take in the two Paralympic events in Vancouver: Sledge Hockey and Wheelchair Curling (Alpine and Cross-country Skiing, and Biathlon are in Whistler). Having never attended a Paralympic event, I really did not know what to expect, and although I knew the physical challenges these athletes faced, I really did not understand the magnitude of how incredible their accomplishments are.
Sledge Hockey is a full-contact hockey game played on a sled. Just sitting on a small sled that rests on skate blades requires an amazing sense of balance. Then add in the ability to flip back up after falling over (happens frequently) and the ability to propel yourself down the ice with sheer upper-body strength (ice picks at the top end of two short hockey sticks give the players all of their momentum) and no gliding benefit that you get from skates, and you realize that these athletes are truly fit. The game I saw was Canada vs. Italy and it was a fast-moving and incredibly physical hockey game. My whole family went (including five kids aged 3 through 7) and we all had an amazing time, especially since Canada won (Steven Harper was there too, sitting only a few rows away).
Wheelchair curling was another eye-opener for me. These athletes do not have the benefit of a sweep to direct (or re-direct) their rock, so they have to be extremely accurate in their throw. They have the option of using a delivery stick that attaches to the top of the rock (everyone we watched used it), and in order to keep their chairs stationary, they put their brakes on and have a second team member hold their chair from behind. With no sweep, they also have to throw a little harder to get the distance. It was an incredibly exciting event, and in the final end of the Canada vs. Norway match that I watched, Canada came from behind to win the game with their final rock. I was on the edge of my seat!
As an added benefit, the kids were very impressed with their ‘hockey on a sled’ experience, and in fact have asked if they can play it at home, too. They do not yet really understand the adversity these individuals face in their daily life, nor the phenomenal will they have to compete at this level, but they will come to understand this in time. And hopefully by learning from a young age to respect the amazing accomplishments of these athletes, there will be no sigma associated with their disabilities—only an appreciation for their abilities.
Sadly, for us in Vancouver, we are entering the very last weekend of the Vancouver 2010 games, so make sure you tune into some of the action. Paralympic accomplishment is truly an inspiration.