Paralympics: smaller, calmer, friendlier

The Paralympics are coming! And everyone is distinctly less stressed out.

I did not say less excited, or less enthusiastic. And definitely not less important. However the Olympics get all the attention, and the attention makes everyone here in Vancouver self conscious and nobody navel-gazes better than Canadians: will they like us? will the snow be OK?

Well since the Olympics is now over and the answer was, well whatever (nobody here cares because we won gold in hockey), we move on to the next event.

My first day working at the Paralympics was very, very relaxed compared to the Olympics. Less volunteers, less security, and so far, more fun.

I got my first hint of this when I went to get my credentials (yes, a new set) for the Para games.
First, the Olympic Credentials:

Note the lack of letters and interesting colours. WCR means I get to go on the “field of play” at the Whistler Creekside venue. The WVL means I can do first aid in the Whistler Village Medals Plaza. The boring little “R” in the bottom right is the most important: it’s the letter than means I get to go to the Athlete’s Village. Without this “R” I would be severely reprimanded for descending from the air with and injured athlete (the “polyclinic” hospital is at the Athlete’s Village)

I even needed an “upgrade” pass and a lift ticket (both rather difficult to obtain) to be able to get onto the race course itself. And this pass was scrutinized by at least 10 people every day.

Now the Paralympics credentials:

Can you see the difference?
The Infinity symbol doesn’t get me into any “Lost”-style secret facility, but it is called an “infinity” pass. It grants me access to all sport venues. The “R” is still there, but the other letters don’t really mean anything to me.

Here’s the thing: exactly 2 people asked me for my pass today, and one was when I was leaving the venue. My reflex, left over from the Olympics, is to pull this thing out of my jacket whenever someone looks at me sideways but today everything was just fine. I guess from a distance with all the letters it looks more important.

The next thing about the Paralympics is that on two occasions today an athlete waved, and yelled “Thank You” as we were training near the finish area of the downhill course. The first time I thought that it was a mistake and he was talking to someone else, but the second time our group waved back.

My manual tells me that on no account am I to touch or interact with an athlete. During the Olympics, although we were often just feet from where the competitors were walking after a race, out of respect we kept our distance. I can only imagine the flurry of blue Smurf suits milling around Lindsay Vonn should this rule be broken.

But with the Para games, most of us don’t know any of the competitors, there’s no media pressure, no milling crowds, and so far a few more relaxed, less aloof athletes.

Anyway, this is what’s today’s training looked like:

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

10 minutes after training, an Italian athlete suffered a broken leg on a training run, and the team executed the same rescue for real.

The final thing to note about the Paralympics: just a few weeks ago when we did the rescue of Stacey Cook during the women’s training run I had a friend text me mere minutes after I landed at the polyclinic. When I arrived home there were hundreds of different photos of me on the internet performing the rescue. Today, with a serious injury (the athlete only had one leg), and now unable to compete, I can find no trace of this event.

I guess the cost of the relaxed nature of the event is the reduced coverage.

As an aside, my partner recently discovered one of her co-workers won a bronze medal in swimming at the 1980 Summer Paralympics. How cool is that?

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