The 2018 Olympics ended off with a bang on February 25th – explosive fireworks, performances by famed K-pop stars, and yet another mesmerizing drone show. And with Team Canada bringing home its top medal haul since Vancouver 2010 – 29 medals in total – this year’s Winter Games were more than just a success.
But it’s not farewell to PyeongChang just yet, as the Paralympics held their opening ceremonies this past Friday, March 9th – and this year’s Paralympic games are not one to be missed. Organizers are lauding this year’s games as the largest Winter Paralympics in history, with up to 670 athletes from 49 countries that will test their abilities in six different sports.
Canada is sending their largest team ever, composed of 55 athletes from all different walks of life – the youngest at a mere 17 years old, and the oldest athlete at 58 – that will be bearing the flag in all six events.
It can be argued that many are not nearly as invested in Para-sports as they are in the Olympics, but it is important to note that sport for impaired athletes has existed for more than a century.
A little bit of history…
It was Ludwig Guttmann, a German-born British neurologist, and his small Spinal injuries Centre which opened at the Stoke Mandeville hospital in Great Britain that established the Paralympics to be what they are today.
The original purpose of sport for the impaired was to help rehabilitate and assist the large number of war veterans and civilians that had been injured during wartime. With Dr. Guttmann’s spinal injuries centre, rehabilitation sport progressed to recreational sport, and then to competitive sport.
For the 1948 London Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organized the first ever competition for wheelchair athletes, and in 1952, the International Stoke Mandeville Games were founded. These later became the Paralympic Games, which were first held in Rome, Italy, in 1960 with over 400 athletes competing from 23 different countries.
Don’t say Pyeongchang is over
But even with this relatively long-standing history, it can be argued that Para-Sport has yet to be put in the spotlight – many turn their screens off once the Olympics wrap up their closing ceremonies, and forget about the Games until the next two years roll around.
But as an avid Olympics lover and spectator, I’m not about to pass up a whole week full of even more snowboarding, skiing, curling, hockey, and biathlons. The Games are not over yet.
The Olympic cauldron is still lit – and the flame is slowly being tended to
I had the privilege of speaking with two Team Canada Paralympians, who are competing in PyeongChang as I write this – Erin Latimer, a Para Alpine athlete hailing from Toronto, and James Dunn, a sledge hockey athlete and the youngest one on Team Canada’s contingent this year.
Latimer, who learned to ski at a mere two and a half years old, grew up ski racing in an able-bodied program. She was recruited into the Alpine Ontario Para Alpine Race Team in 2012 and is now representing Canada at her first Paralympics in PyeongChang.
When asked how she felt about the amount of attention Parasport receives in comparison to the Olympics, Latimer expressed that there was indeed a discrepancy between the two. As a result, the amount of support and engagement Paralympians receive from fans are also affected:
“Parasport does not get as much support/engagement from fans compared to able-bodied athletes because they do not have the same amount of exposure.”
But Latimer also noted that there are definitely higher levels of engagement during the Paralympics than any other major Para-Alpine event and expressed how grateful she is for all the support she receives.
It’s true. The Paralympics seem to always get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to both awareness and exposure, but it’s definitely getting better. The CBC and Radio-Canada have dedicated more than 600 hours for coverage of the Paralympics, including broadcasts and online streams, a whopping leap from the mere 30 hours dedicated to the 2014 Sochi Paralympics. In the U.S., NBC will present more than 250 hours of coverage across their various networks – another major improvement from the 52 hours of broadcast time from the past Para Games.
James Dunn, a first time Paralympian as well, recounted how the stands at his last sledge hockey game in Port Colborne were filled to the brim, inciting hopeful and heightened levels of engagement to come in the future.
Several celebrities, including Mr. T, have made a point to also join in on the action – encouraging their followers to tune into the action.
Mr. T – an American actor and a retired pro wrestler – has been keeping up with the Paralympics, and encouraging his 200K Twitter followers to do so as well.
Dunn, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his knee at age 11, was introduced to sledge hockey when he met Tyler McGregor – now a fellow teammate – at the hospital. He was able to rediscover the sport he loved in a completely new way, and the rest is history.
Being the youngest athlete on Team Canada this year, Dunn attends high school like any other 17-year-old and spends his time after class training hard on the ice and in the gym.
“Para – Olympics”
The Paralympics and the athletes that have trained tirelessly to get to these games have so much to give, and so much to show. As these athletes are shredding the snow, curling stones from their wheelchairs, and sliding across the hockey rink, they are here to play, they are here to medal, and they are here to win.
The word “Paralympic” is derived from the Greek preposition “para”, which means “beside” or “alongside” and the word “Olympic” – literally translating to “alongside Olympics.” The Paralympics are not the side course to the Olympic main course – the two movements exist side-by-side, they are parallel to one another and are equal in demands for strength, determination, and passion.
So, let’s tune in this Paralympics, cheering on Canada’s largest team yet, and watching in awe as our athletes proudly bear our flag, while shredding both snow and ice.