Posted by: PPHR | March 16, 2010

Local Life

WINTER PARALYMPICS: Weasel workers and Paddy’s very own day in the sun

By Ashley McMillan

Considered the ‘poorer’ sibling of the much vaunted Winter Olympics, the Winter 2010 Paralympics is now underway.

For those of you following this world staged event, you will have noticed that the infamous Whistler weather has already impacted events, starting on day one.

From tourists to local skiers alike, we all crave the regular downpours of the white, light and sumptuous precipitation. The hills are revelled in just that much more when skiing or boarding in beautiful soft powder. So, after a couple of weeks with little or no fresh stuff, coupled with some glorious sunshine prompting some to murmur that Spring is already here, it is then a most welcome return to the good stuff.

The only problem when staging a world cup or winter olympic, or paralympics alpine event when its dumping so much, is that it makes it tough to manage the courses and keep them in world class condition – I have a friend who works as a ‘weasel worker’, clearing the course of snow to ensure the best possible conditions. He and his fellow workers / volunteers have been getting some 3am starts in the last few days and he’ll continue to gripe about it. However, he’s one of a specialist breed who wouldn’t have it any other way and along with his fellow weasel cohorts (who are the integral cog in all alpine speed events that keep everything on track… if you’ll forgive my pun!) are simply revelling in it all.

So what do we all want? Powder to jump around and play in, carving out beautiful turn after turn, leaving our tracks for others to see, or, glorious sunny ‘bluebird’ days for the spectators, camera crews and athletes alike? I guess our boy Mr Churchill knew what he was saying when he was quoted ‘Can’t please everyone all the time…’, or words to that effect!

Now that the Paralympics are here, we once again see the visitor numbers spike. Although the traffic is most definitely lower than that of mid February, the flair of the travelling masses still adds flavour to the day to day vibe around the village. The big dumps of snow, coupled with the removal of restrictions along the highway and parking in town have no doubt drawn the crowds in once again. Some may even look to the local hills around Vancouver when pointing to the returning visitor numbers. We have heaps of snow here that will easily see us last well up to the planned May 24th closing date… unlike our neighbours down in the city, season as good as over!

However, it is noticeable walking around town, just how many individuals with various disabilities have travelled to be here, many simply following their family, colleagues or just to marvel at events. It will be interesting to find out just how these individuals find Whistler in terms of accessibility, ie do we have enough ramps, wide door frames, sufficient hotel rooms equipped for those who need slightly different layouts to enable movement around and continue to be self sufficient.

The free events, the bands and artistes are back for everyone to enjoy, the tickets to the Paralympics events have been priced sufficiently low at typically around $15cdn (or around £9), leaving no excuses for anyone not to attend and create their own experiences. It is a little disappointing not to see even more numbers around town at this time, but the simple fact is that unfortunately, the Paralympics simply does not carry the same weight or ‘sexiness’ as the Olympics. It is definitely a growing event though, with more and more athletes competing at each games. There are many challenges that these guys face and I wouldn’t be so presumptuous or ignorant to put myself in their shoes. It would be fair though to suggest that there is a lot more the various organising committees and the athlete’s home nations could do to fund and support these guys. Many of them have overcome enough challenges in one lifetime, but to see and understand the amount of training and dedication its taken to get them here now on the world stage beggars belief!

The Paralympics has come a long, long way since the dizzy days not long after World War II, when as a means of challenging recovery and rehabilitation for a good number of ex-servicemen, Stoke Mandeville in the UK, hosted the first competition, dubbed the ‘Stoke Mandeville games’. Its been a struggle along the way to see that these fine ladies and gents are not left to struggle, not treated as second class citizens and are encouraged to be all they can be. I, for one, stand in awe when watching them. There are several athletes who live around Whistler who spend their days on the ski hills in winter and a good few will frequent the down hill bike park here in summer. There are those who were competitive athletes in their own right when tragedy struck them. There are those who were born with their disabilities, but all have applied themselves to see that they live a full life and have reached the top of their sporting prowess and it is their time shine now! If only the sponsorship was in their sports that we see across the Olympics, so that the media showed more interest in broadcasting these dedicated sportsmen and women at work!

So far, the Russian Federation are cleaning up in the medal count. One would perhaps be forgiven for assuming that maybe the head national coach of these boys and girls may not be treated with the same distain that his counterpart from the Olympic team did, where upon his return home, he was swiftly met with the proverbial axe. A good showing is what they demand and is required ahead of their 2014 show.

Ironically, despite being the hosts with the publicity on us, there are those here who are perhaps looking forward to St Paddy’s day here on Wednesday instead with just a tad more enthusiasm. I know that there can usually be an ex-pat or at least a good Irish bar to be found in most western cities and towns these days across the globe, but it has to be noted, that perhaps this day is celebrated as hard here as it is anywhere, perhaps even as hard as Australia Day. Both of which are true athletic events in their own right here!

So, enjoy and show your admiration for those competing here in the events of their lives. In doing so, could I kindly ask you to raise your glass – Slàinte

A good little Irish saying I recently read:

When we drink, we get drunk.

When we get drunk, we fall asleep.

When we fall asleep, we commit no sin.

When we commit no sin, we go to Heaven.

So, let’s all get drunk, and go to Heaven!

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