As we wrap up the able-bodied Olympics and look forward to the real thing, I thought I’d reprint a post of mine from April 1 a couple of years ago.
As the opening quarter of 2010 draws to a close, we look back on what I believe is the one of the highlights of the year: the Winter Olympics in February. In this event, a whole different kind of athletic competitor took to Vancouver slopes to show the world what they could do.
This two-week “warmup” meet held shortly before the real Olympics helped get the global television audience in the mood, and was also useful in smoothing out any possible kinks in event arrangements.
The preparations and arrangements were complex. Players use specialised vans and buses for transport, equipped with seats in every place for those who cannot bring their own. As you have seen if you tuned in to the whole show, many venues were also fitted with stairs for the benefit of competitors and spectators who might find these more convenient than ramps and elevators. Special flat inked programmes were made available for who read this kind of two-dimensional text. The list goes on and on.
As we look back on the event just past, we also look forward to the next Winter Olympics, to be held in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, and we share our reflections on the event in general. The athletes themselves don’t see it as a “rehearsal”; they take it very seriously. And we should too.
Contenders at this one-of-a-kind icy tournament come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. By accidents of birth or fortune, these athletes have had to come to terms with the fact that they will possibly never play in contests designed for people with other types of bodies. But they don’t let that slow them down!
Despite being born with the use of both legs, many of these bipedal athletes inspire us with their commitment and guts. Having typically learned to walk around the age of one, these amazing Olympians don’t let their lurching two-phase locomotion hold them back. Thought they may look unwieldy to the naive eye, as viewers their movements soon look natural to us. We can see their grace and nimbleness shine through.
Two-legged skiers don’t let their long bulky hindlimbs weigh them down on the slopes; they have learned to use them to the fullest to guide their path down the mountain. In the freestyle aerial competitions, they inspire us as they twirl against the blue Canadian skies, looking almost graceful – unless they fail to keep their dual legs parallel, a particularly common trap for skiers in this event! Sighted skiers seem to remain undistracted by seeing objects near the course while hurtling down the slopes. They handle their unique visual issues well, managing to put aside most distractions and focus on the task at hand. These skiers don’t let their vision stand in their way on the snow!
The brave curlers at the Winter Olympics are only allowed to compete “standing”, on two feet, risking falls from a height that you would think would lead to some nasty bruises of the posterior. It may surprise you to find, however, that taking the wheelchair out of the equation really doesn’t change much. It’s quite ordinary for them; they participate just as they go about in everyday life – but with a bit more ice! You can see that they like to compete at a sport just like lots of people do; these sportsmen and sportswomen consistently show a positive attitude to being differently abled, and their enthusiasm is as bright as the Olympic flame.
Similarly, the tall hockey players may look at first to be top-heavy. But watch them for a while, and you can see that they can skate around and slam the puck – and each other – just like anyone else. The peculiar angled blade on the extra-long modified hockey sticks compensate perfectly for the upright posture. These games are just as full of excitement as regular hockey games!
Innovative coaching methods and a fervent love of sport leads to an incredibly intense level of competition. Despite the fierceness of the contest and the ever-present risk of injury, once the heat is off, you will often find these athletes smiling and joking with each other, always sunny and ready for a bit of socialisation off the slopes. Many of them find sports empowering, and have found friends and even romantic partners in the course of their training and travels.
These special souls lead rich, full lives, and do not need our pity or our sympathy. Some of us, indeed, could learn a lot from their plucky, indomitable spirits. Their existence proves that you can achieve anything if you really try.
It doesn’t matter whether they come home with medals or not. We can’t help but let their joy in participation rub off just a little bit on all of us. And when we participate in witnessing the triumphs of these athletes and their immense courage and determination, aren’t we all winners at the end of the day?