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Top five Christmas 2013 memories

Zurich.

Zurich.

Last Christmas 2013 was amazing. Fantastic. Superuber wonderful. It should have been: my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Europe. We went to Switzerland and Norway. Today I’m listing our top five trip moments.

 #1. Having our luggage arrive with us on our numerous flights across Canada and Europe

I’ve flown both Air Canada and WestJet and both carriers have managed to screw up my baggage on various North American trips. Imagine my surprise when our bags made it to our destination in Oslo, Norway despite plane delays.

Our flight originated in Zurich, Switzerland and we had to switch planes in Berlin. The Air Berlin flight was late leaving Zurich and we thought the gate for our connecting Air Berlin flight to Oslo would be nearby.

Nope. Not a chance. We had to change terminals!

We had about 15 minutes to get from Point A to Point B and a bunch of smoking and slow-walking airport people in front of us. We also had to go through security…again. With a long line ahead of us it was all we could do not to push through to the front. But we made it on the plane, keeping the reputation of polite Canadians intact but imagining the worst for our luggage.

To see it roll down the conveyor belt in the Norwegian airport was an awesome sight.

#2. The Spengler Cup

I play hockey and watch hockey: both NHL and the Spengler. In my twenties in Nova Scotia

Vaillant Arena in Davos. Look at those beams.

Vaillant Arena in Davos. Look at those beams.

we would tune into the European hockey tournament Boxing Day and I would think how silly the uniforms were with all the advertising on them. But it didn’t take away from the play under the magnificent cathedral ceilings of the Vaillant Arena in Davos, Switzerland.

Being in the arena was a dream come true. I got to see lots of good hockey and enjoyed seeing the Red Army take to the ice. Alex Radulov is a fantastic player even if he gets tired after 30 seconds of having the puck.

#3. The view from our friends’ house

Two generous friends allowed us to stay at their beautiful mountain home in Fanas, Switzerland while they were away for Christmas. Fanas is spectacular and photos don’t do it justice. We spent New Year’s Eve there and it was a sight to see (and hear).

View in Fanas.

That’s just one side of the amazing view.

Fireworks went off up and down the valley and from peak to peak for miles. The sky was illuminated from 11 p.m. until almost dawn. Church bells rang out not just at midnight but for hours and hours. The whole experience was just like out of a story book.

 #4. Seeing friends

I worked as a sport reporter at the Vancouver 2012 Olympic/Paralympic Games in Whistler. I met and lived with people from around the world. In Switzerland and Norway I got the chance to meet up with some European friends again, a month before the 2014 winter games.

 #5. Norway

Family_Lines_2013_three

In Oslo at the Akershus Castle and Fortress. This part sort of reminded me of the Halifax Citadel.

I felt at home in Norway as did my husband. The country’s capital, Oslo, is easy to get around in and there’s much to see and do. We took buses to museums and the subway to the outskirts of the city where there’s a quaint and cozy restaurant called the Frognerseteren. I had a delicious meal of fish cakes (which aren’t like Maritime fish cakes but actually pancakes with fish in them) and my husband had an elk burger. We had our lunch beside a roaring bright fire. Truly a meal (and price) to remember.

This Christmas will be decidedly duller. Calgary is home though and we have lots of friends here even though we’ll be far away from family.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Don’t underestimate the athlete

2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.

Russian gold medalist in sit-ski at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.

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?”

Andy Soule.

Andy Soule, U.S. Paralympian. Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andy_Soule,_2010_Paralympics.jpg

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.

The promise of a flag

Swiss flag.

Reuniting friends and a flag in Zurich.

You never know where life is going to take you. (This is a cliché and I always tell my memoir writing workshop participants never to use these sayings but today it’s OK.) Four years ago I was given a Swiss flag in Whistler and a request to reunite it with its owner in Switzerland when I could. And it happened a few weeks ago.

In 2010 I had the job of a lifetime as part of the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games.  Posted in Whistler, B.C. as a Nordic sport writer for the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service, I met and worked with people from around the world. It was an interesting job, despite the long hours, and after my job was done for the day I hopped on a bus and headed for the swanky home I shared with five others.

Six women were packed into a condo near downtown Whistler. There was me, the Canadian, my roommate, the Norwegian, a Brit, another with dual Canadian and American citizenship, her American friend and a Swiss Ms. We all held different roles and therefore had different hours but somehow, we all became friends.

Opening ceremonies Vancouver Winter Games 2010. (Thanks for the photo Julia.)

Opening ceremonies Vancouver Winter Games 2010. (Thanks for the photo Julia.)

Flags from our representing countries were hung up around our living room (that was also one woman’s bedroom) during the opening ceremonies. There was a small party that night with other VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) employees, each person cheering loudly as his or her country walked into the B.C. Place Stadium. This was the only time I would be allowed to clap for Canada; otherwise I had to be impartial.

At the end of the Olympics some workers were staying on for the Paralympics, like me, while others were returning home. The Swiss Ms, Cornelia, gave me her Swiss flag and told me I had to bring it back to her. I had been to Switzerland a few years before but hadn’t considered a future trip.

“I’ll try to return it to you,” I said. But in my mind I thought there was no way I was travelling to Europe in the next year or so. There were other priorities like finding another job and a place to live. So I packed the red and white flag away in my things and since then, have been moving it around and around with me. Each time I packed and unpacked, from Whistler to various apartments in Revelstoke and Calgary, I would uncover the flag and be reminded of my promise.

After getting married almost two years ago, my husband and I decided to have a delayed honeymoon so we could save up money. When we were discussing options we talked about going to the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Switzerland! I could finally return Cornelia’s flag – right before the 2014 Sochi Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games.

Cornelia and I made plans to meet in Zurich on the first day of 2014 and that’s when I passed over the flag. Not with much pomp or ceremony but we did take a photo to mark the moment. During these past holidays not only did I get to catch up with my Swiss friend but I also got a chance to meet up with two other Whistler roommates I hadn’t seen since 2010. One was in Alberta over the Christmas holidays and the other had us over to her house for a thoroughly delicious moose supper in Oslo, Norway (the second part of our honeymoon destination.) You never know where life is going to take you.

 

Passing the torch at the Sochi Olympics

Olympic uniform.

Me in my Olympic/Paralympic work uniform – on my way to work.

The countdown is on for the start of the Sochi Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games. I know several people who will be working behind the scenes in Russia. I was one of them four years ago as part of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games and will miss being part of the team this time.

Posted in Whistler as a Nordic sport writer for the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service, I met and worked with people from around the world. I was a cross-country ski and Nordic combined “expert.” My job was to write stories for the journalists waiting eagerly for copy. Some reporters were new to winter sports and needed help understanding who was on the podium, who wasn’t and why. I told them.

I liked my job and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Olympics/Paralympics even though I didn’t relish the relentless soup and sandwiches we had for lunch every day for a few months. I also didn’t care for the term we VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) employees were given because of our blue uniforms – “Smurfs.” It wasn’t an endearing nickname although now I admit, it’s kind of funny.

Journalists in a room.

Journalists working at the Nordic Media Centre in Whistler during the Olympics.

The moments that stand out for me during my job at the Olympics/Paralympics aren’t ones involving the athletes and their gold finishes, it’s more the excitement of the Smurfs before the opening ceremonies. It’s about making new friends. It’s about Whistler being turned into a global village. It’s about being part of a legacy, even if the experience for me was brief.

Today’s blog piece isn’t so much a story as a look back for me. A reminiscence of a period and place that was truly invigorating and tiresome at the same time. Now it’s someone else’s job to watch every slip and slide and jump. To write the daily previews and reviews. To gather stories about athletes and coaches. Friday is the Olympic opening ceremonies so it’s time to pass the torch. Good luck.

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