Vancouver Paralympics part I – The Wait is Over

For the past three years I have dreamed of ten days in March.  For those three years I would go out every day to train or compete with a goal to get better or to have more experience so I could be the best I could be for those ten days.  I woke up and every morning for those years I asked myself ‘what do I have to do today to obtain my goals’ during those ten days.  On the evening before I left for Vancouver I thought- Wow!  The Games had felt so far away for so long and then it hit me, the next time I would wake up I would only be hours from traveling to the 2010 Winter Paralympics.

During the two weeks the Olympics had been on I had watched and followed it very closely.  It truly amazed me the power that sport can have on a single person, a team, or a country.  I didn’t just watch only a few sports I found myself watching every sport.  Sure I had a greater passion, and could almost recite the entire event schedule for cross country and biathlon, but I was watching other sports.  One night I thought to myself, ‘it’s a Saturday Night and I’m at home watching pairs Ice Dance.’  I couldn’t help it I wanted to watch and cheer on team Canada.  I stood up and sang O’ Canada every time it was played.  I took a moment in silent with Joannie Rochette at the end of her routine.  I yelled at the sweepers on Kevin Martin’s rink.  I cheered with the crowd for every shot J.P. LeGuellec hit.  My heart was beating as fast as Devon Kershaw’s was in that Sprint finish at the end of the 50km.  And going back to my heritage I even swore in Dutch alongside Sven Kramer after the 10’000m.  I saw friends reach new heights; personal bests come agonizingly close and not close at all.  I felt a greater attraction to these Games then I had ever before, whether it was because they were in Canada or because I knew what all those athletes had gone through to get there.  Either way, I saw that Canadians enjoyed themselves and I believe we all became hungry for more.

At 7:10 in the morning on the 8 of March, my Paralympic experience began.  We drove down to the Airport in Calgary to catch our flight to Vancouver.  As we came off the plane I had my first encounter with the volunteers (or smurfs because of their bright blue jackets and toques and probably because their smiles never faded).  They were so friendly you could ask them anything and they would have the answer or would find it for you.  We had our accreditations activated at the airport; during the Paralympics your accreditation has more power than your passport does.  The only thing you can do that you do not need your accreditation is sleep.  We headed to the conveyor belt to make sure that the smurfs had collected all of our bags and onto the bus.  After a two hour drive up the Sea-to-Sky highway we turned right at Function Junction just before Whistler and entered the Whistler Paralympic Village.  We passed through metal detectors and had all our bags scanned- airport style.  We also had to check in our air rifles, and were not allowed to have them in our rooms due to security concerns.  Our next stop was our rooms in the Athlete’s Village.  Awaiting our arrival were the clothing packages from Hbc.  We were urged to try on all the clothing to ensure that it fit, my shirts all fit but my pants were gigantic.  I could fit into just one pant leg.  After getting the super-sized clothing issue resolved, my next concern was food!  The dining centre was a huge tent, but it had carpeted floors so it was pretty fancy.  The first thing you notice is the McDonalds, the athlete’s perfect recovery food.  Then there was the market, which contained a salad bar, fresh fruit, desserts, cold cuts, breads, cereals and dairy.  Around the central market were the food stations.  A pasta stand, pizza (always get the fresh slices), and a made-to-order stir-fry station, and Asian food (rice and stir-fry) the last two stations were a grill and a continental cuisine area.  The food was great, well prepared and there were plenty of choices.  The favorites had to be the made-to-order stir fry and continental cuisine but a close second with McDonalds (as recovery or celebration of the race, whatever sounds better to you).

The next few days were a blur.  We trained every day, doing some of the last minute tuning to our fitness so that come March 13 we were ready to go.  I began testing my skis to narrow the choices down so that on the morning of the race I would only be testing two pairs to decide which I would race on.

Then it came, March 12, 2010.  I had an easy work out in the morning, pretty much just to get out and get the blood flowing, some last minute testing on the changing conditions.  Around noon the majority of the team boarded some buses and headed down from Whistler to Vancouver to be in the Opening Ceremonies.  I choose not to attend as I wanted to focus on the Biathlon Pursuit that was the next day.  The best guess at when the athletes from the Opening Ceremonies could return to the village in Whistler was after midnight. I had to be on the bus up to the race site by 8:30 the next morning.  I watched the ceremonies live from the Canadian Athlete’s Lounge in the village.  It was something else though to see that there was not a seat to be found in BC Place.  It was an awesome Opening Ceremonies (in my opinion better then the Olympic Opening, because it involved youth, the future of the Olympic and Paralympic movements.  I have nothing against Wayne Gretzky but I thought it had a much greater impact to have a kid light the Paralympic cauldron).   I stayed in the moment and was not thinking about what I would accomplish the next day.

At 10:31:30.1 PST of March 13, I took my first step as a Paralympian.  The first race was the Biathlon Pursuit.  I had very good skis; I was focused on the moment and skiing very well.  I was a little unnerved in the first bout of shooting missing my first two shots.  I went out hard trying to make up some of the time that I had just lost with the shooting.  I came in the range for the second shooting.  I guess I was on the big screen because when I hit my first target there was a sudden uproar from the crowd.  I had to take a fraction of a second to absorb that moment.  I continued my shooting hitting the target and getting a huge reaction from the stands.  I hit the last shot, hitting all five targets.  I thought the crowd had yelled loud before but when I hit that last target it was thunderous.  That pushed me even harder, I gave anything I had left and was brought to the finish line again by a thunderous roar.  Beside the two early misses I finished seventh and had qualified to the final that afternoon.  I stuck with the same skis as I had raced on in the morning for the final.  My first lap of skiing was awesome, I was on fire.  I had a good shooting, missing one target and completed the penalty loop in no time.  Back on course I was really going for it and had caught the eventual silver medalist.  The race quickly deteriorated during my second bout of shooting.  I missed three shots, which put me out of the running.  I skied around that penalty loop as fast as I could and quickly got back on course and managed to pick up two spots before reaching the finish line of my first Paralympic race day.  I ended up in seventh, a really strong result considering I missed four shots.  I was skiing incredibly well.

I now had a three day break from competing because I was skipping the 20km race on Monday.  I took Sunday very easy to recover from Saturday’s race.  On Monday I went out onto the recreational trails in the Callaghan Valley.  It turned out to be one of the best skis I have ever had.  My grip was incredible, the trail was awesome with rolling terrain but a few fun and entertaining downhill sections.  I was out there for over two hours and I enjoyed every minute of it.  That ski gave me an opportunity to get over the emotions of the first race and to physically and mentally prepare for the next race.

The Biathlon Individual was the same story.  My skiing held me in contention with the top spots, but on the range I struggled hitting only 11 of the 20 targets and so adding 9 minutes of penalty time to my ski time.  I wanted a good result.  Now looking back I probably wanted too much and could not get into my shooting groove.  I was still pleased and proud of both biathlon events.  But I was also a little relieved that the remaining races did not involve shooting so I could just rely on what seemed to be in great form and that was my skiing and fitness.  To add to my experience, I broke my pole- it would be my first pole I broke while racing.  Well, I didn’t break it, the guy behind me stepped on the end of my pole splitting it into two.  The worst of this was that I didn’t have a spare close by.  I yelled for a coach to radio ahead to have the pole ready but he mis-communicated where I was.  I was forced to climb the steepest hill on the course without a pole in my last lap of five.  That hurt so much, but most of that pain was me because even with braking the pole I refused to allow the guy behind me (the one that broke the pole) to pass.  The other coach with my spare had run up a hill and just slipped through a break in the fence and handed it to me as I skied by.

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