“I hope to lead by example and send a message of ability and not disability,” Sonja Gaudet said recently in a comment about being selected as Canada’s flag bearer during the opening ceremonies at the Sochi 2014 Paralympics.
Ability to be amazing, is the way I see it and to be able to demonstrate to the world that these high level athletes are inspiring, and our heroes. A mom was sharing with me recently when we were discussing the Olympics and our being pleased that the Paralympics were starting, that in her house the Paralympic athletes and in particular John Dueck are her son’s sports heroes. “He’s impressive.”
To compete at this level these athletes will have spent hours training, be totally committed, invested thousands of dollars, suffered injuries; competed numerous times and won world cups and national championships, and have the support of families and friends; the same as the other Olympic athletes. Now you add to that the fact that they will do so in a wheel chair, on a sit-ski, or other restrictions takes this to a whole new level of challenge.
The Olympics are a forum for peace, bringing together representatives from nations of the world to play and compete together. The Paralympics also have the potential to be a venue for social change as they bring attention to people with disabilities. Chantal Peticleric, a gold medal athlete, says these games in Russia will “make room for people with disability not only in sport but also in education and the working world. The games are a clear example of when sport is more than sport but instead a vehicle for social change.”
With what is happening in Russia and Ukraine now, we hope that Sochi remains a safe place for the athletes, coaches, trainers, spectators and the world media. We want these athletes who have worked so hard to get to the games have their time to shine and for them to be safe. We want the games to be seen by millions and for the world to cheer on the efforts of the athletes. We can cry with pride, shout with joy and share their moments together.
Canada is sending 54 athletes to the games, of whom many are multiple medal winners already. We are behind our athletes at the Paralympics and these games are a testament to the strength of the human potential. The games will be on CBC and we can also watch online.
Human potential, human strength, strength of spirit. Why do some have the capacity to face a life-changing injury and become a world class athlete? In addition to their talent and athletic abilities, they pull on more. Where does the resilience and super human endurance come from? I do not for a minute believe that along the way there were not many tears, bouts of depression, extreme struggles, anger and frustration. These athletes have faced that, and from March 7 to 16 will demonstrate their achievements in Sochi. Not only the athletes have this power, it is anyone who has had to face a very difficult path and taken it head on.
These games are a chance for the world to see and in the words of Paul Rosen, a sledge hockey goaltender, “a great athlete is now known as a great athlete.” .
I also hope the Paralympics do become an opportunity for social change around the world, in particular countries like Russia, and that the message “it’s not about what’s missing, it’s about what’s there” resonates into action.
Michele Blais has worked with children and families in the North Okanagan for 27 years. She writes on a variety of topics, appearing every other Sunday.