The Olympics may be over but the best is yet to come – the Paralympics. The Paralympics are by far the better show of athletic skill and heart. Despite this, these games are not well attended and there are hardly any Paralympic sports broadcast on Canadian TV.
In 2010 I was posted in Whistler, B.C. as a Nordic sport writer for the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service. As part of the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games I got the chance to not only write about some of the competitions but take in the atmosphere of the global events held in our country.
During the Olympics, Whistler was filled with people. The medals plaza was stuffed to capacity with spectators every night and the streets of the mountain town were packed with revellers. The stands at cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined and biathlon were jammed with fans no matter the weather. That all changed during the Paralympics and I wondered why.
Paralympians work just as hard as Olympians. They’re all athletes training to be number one in their sport. They’re all dealing with outside pressures such as family and finances and work. They’re all attempting to realize a dream – standing on the podium and representing their country. Usually, only Olympians get to feel the glory. We hear about their fight to be the best. We hear their stories of making it to the top. You rarely hear about a Paralympian’s quest for gold. But when you do, you’ll cheer louder than ever like I did.
One of my roles at the Paralympics was to write stories about the athletes. I interviewed them and asked them questions that would be considered rude in other circumstances.
“What is your disability category?”
In Paralympic cross-country skiing and biathlon, there are standing events, sitting events and visually impaired events. One U.S. sit-ski and biathlon competitor had his legs amputated after being hit by an explosive while serving in Afghanistan. An athlete before he lost his limbs, Andy Soule told me he wanted to stay active after his injuries and when he was introduced to cross-country skiing, he was a natural. Five years after his life-changing event, he was at the 2010 Paralympics, and making history as the first American to win a bronze medal in biathlon in either the Olympic or the Paralympic Games.
Andy’s story was just one incredible story out of many. No doubt Olympians face adversity too but when some superstars had a bad race, they stormed past reporters and wouldn’t talk. Most Paralympians opened up about their experiences and shared their thoughts about the competition, making themselves available to the media – win or lose.
Even though the stands weren’t even half-full at the cross-country and biathlon, Paralympians couldn’t get over the amount of people cheering them on. The athletes said it was fantastic and they hadn’t ever seen crowds like that. I only wish that more people would realize how great the Paralympics are and look past the disabilities.