Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Brother Writes about the Paralympics

Was a great weekend and someone asked me when I was up in Vancouver what I liked better, the Winter Olympics or the Winter Paralympics. I guess I found that to be a very unusual question, as they were similar in so many ways, but so different.

To me the Olympics were an event I have always wanted to experience as a spectator, especially speed skating to see first hand the speed and grace in which they are able to maneuver around that rink. Seeing Apolo Ohno win a bronze and the 7th medal of his career and JR Celski skate were definitely highlights and very memorable moments I will never forget. Both of these speed skaters were highly profiled and medal contenders in a high competitive field. The city of Vancouver during the Winter Olympics was in its glory, all decked out with national flags, closed off streets, people partying 24/7, crowds where ever you went and an energizing spirit that is hard to describe.
When I got to Vancouver this weekend for the Paralympics, the mood seemed different, gone were all of the temporary Olympic exhibits. Where there was an ice bar now stood 8 full grown trees that were just planted. Movie sets were back up and film crews were out. Workers were busy taking down miles of fencing and cement barriers put up around all of the venues; streets were all open to traffic; there were no crowds, but plenty of trash along the streets; homeless people had returned to areas of the city they call home, it was a like any other city with just a few Olympic and Paralympic banners still hanging from street posts and signs in the shop windows advertising all Olympic souvenirs 50%-75% off.

It all seemed like such a fa├žade and made me think more about what the Paralympics mean than what the Olympics meant.

I had tickets for wheelchair curling on Saturday morning at 10:00am. On Thursday afternoon, I got a call at work from the Vancouver ticket office letting me know where I could pick up my tickets on Saturday morning, as they were closing their ticket office in the Yaletown area as things were winding down.

I have to say, CoSports has been the most wonderful ticketing service I have ever dealt with and they wanted to make sure I received my tickets in time for my events both at the Olympics and Paralympics and even offered to courier them to me. Instead I went to the Sheraton Hotel in Vancouver on Saturday morning at 9:00 to the 27th floor after being escorted up by the concierge and greeted by two of the nicest volunteers. They didn’t even ask my name but said “You must be Steve!” The said “You are going to have such a great time and so glad you were able to make it up from Seattle”. Give us just a few minutes and we will get you your tickets. In the meantime they printed me out directions to the venue which was just a few light rail stops away.

I had my ticket in hand and off I went.

At the Sky Train station there were no lines and no waiting and I arrived at the Curling Venue in about 15 minutes. When attending the Olympic Games it was recommended to arrive at least 2 hours early to pass through security, so I wasn’t sure if I had enough time, as it was already about 9:30. I get up to the entrance and they scan my ticket and to my surprise there was no security and the venue lobby looked like any other sporting venue with vendors selling drinks, food and souvenirs. I went ahead and found my seat, at one end of the rink in the 6th row and the place was packed and you could feel the excitement.

I was so excited just to be here I had no idea who was even playing! I felt bad that I didn’t even know the names of any of the athletes competing…all I knew I was that this was a semi-final wheelchair curling event.

At 10:00 it all started as 5 bagpipes led a procession down the middle rink followed by the athletes from the US, Korea, Sweden and Canada in their wheelchairs grinning from ear to ear, waving wildly to the crowd and the crowd rose to their feet with a thunderous roar of applause; stomping of feet drowning out the bagpipes; and tears from people in the crowd – what an emotional and overwhelming moment that was to see these athletes in their glory amidst the most supportive crowd I have been part of.

This was special, this was the Paralympics and this is what made it stand out from the Olympics. It wasn’t about what the city looked like, or the crowds, etc. it didn’t matter, it was about these unique and talented athletes and what they were about to prove to themselves and the people watching – win or lose. During the three hours of curling, the crowd cheered for all teams equally on each and every rock throw, but more so the home team. Wheelchair curlers do not have the sweepers to help the rock curl as it approaches the house, so they have to aim and push the rock with an extension rod using their arms and upper body strength, as they lock the breaks on their chair, while another teammates locks their chair holding on to the throwers chair to prevent any movement.

Simply amazing.

Canada won over Sweden and Korea overtook the US and later in the day Canada went on to take the Gold, Korea the Silver and Sweden the Bronze.

As the athletes left the ice waving to the supportive crowd, the crowd again was on their feet with a standing ovation waving wildly and cheering them on.

What an overwhelming experience that was.

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