Sochi marks my 6th Paralympic Games — the first three as an athlete, the next three with the Canadian Paralympic Committee. I have watched the awareness around the Paralympics grow considerably over the 15 years, and the games here in Sochi have once again brought Paralympic sport to a whole new level. All of the events are sold out and the stands are packed every day with people outside the venues desperate for tickets.
I am here as part of the Canadian media consortium which has been absolutely ground breaking. After the first three days of the Sochi Paralympic Games we had already surpassed the coverage shown in Canada for the entire London Paralympic Games in 2012. My roles here are blogging for Yahoo Sports, and conducting athlete interviews for CBC and other internal media for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
My first few days in Sochi were completely chaotic. There is so much that happens behind the scenes that you just don’t see as an athlete. It has been an interesting and humbling experience to witness the amount of people, time, work, and lack of sleep that goes into creating a seamless experience for the athletes so the only thing they need to focus on is their performance. And as far as I can tell, everything for the Paralympics has been done to the same standard as the Olympics.
The first event I saw was downhill skiing. The course in Sochi is extremely difficult and we saw visually impaired athletes flying down the hill at speeds faster than 130km/hour. Canada captured a silver and a bronze medal, but by far the best part of the day was chatting with the friends and families of the athletes.
I met BJ Marcoux, brother of Canadian skier Mac Marcoux, a visually impaired athlete. He told me that he was originally meant to be skiing in the games as the guide for his brother, but was injured a few weeks before the games. Chris Williamson, an older visually impaired skier on the team , immediately offered his guide to ski with Mac. Chris then called up one of his former guides back in Canada and within three days, Nick Brush made it to Sochi to fill in as Chris’s guide.
These Canadian athletes really put the team ahead of themselves. I was so touched, especially when BJ said that even though he was not in the race physically with his brother, he felt every moment from the stands.
Although I grew up with a disability, I didn’t learn about the Paralympic Games until I was a teenager. Seeing how far we have come and knowing the impact the increased awareness of the Paralympics Games will have brings tears to my eyes. Paralympians continually change perceptions on what is possible, not for people with disability, but for absolutely everyone.