At the Paralympics, patriotism kicks in

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By Bev Schellenberg

Already the patriotic glow has started to fade for some, but not for the 60,000 people who filed into BC Place Stadium for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies.

My 12-year old daughter, disappointed at our not being able to afford the $175 minimum price tag per person for the Opening and Closing Olympic Ceremonies, was delighted when I told her I had ordered tickets for the Paralympic Opening via the internet. At $30 per ticket, paralympics-2010-openingincluding free transit, it was the proletariat’s dream price tag, despite the fact I figured we’d be perched at the highest row of the proceedings. I told her we could watch it on CTV the following day: at least we could be in the audience for the live event.

Standing for half an hour across from the outdoor Robson skating rink to pick up our tickets, my concerns were further confirmed by a former Olympic volunteer wearing the much-prized turquoise jacket. She felt the $65 tickets were the best viewing options: not too high and not too low. After all, she said, the expensive seats at the Olympic opening had no view of the whales on the floor, just the spouting water. That wouldn’t do. My tickets, she commented, would have us hanging off the ceiling. By the time I reached the ticket counter and saw the “sold out” next to the $30 and $65 price range tickets (the next available were $95 and $175), I didn’t care if we were swinging from the light fixtures. I’d ordered tickets that were now sold out: consumer bliss.

It was tough to know what to wear: the sea of red has thinned considerably since the Olympics. The week following the closing ceremony, we had a Spirit Week at the Greater Vancouver high school where I teach, of which Day 3 was athlete and mathlete day — the day to wear one’s favourite team jersey or dress like a geek. Sure enough, after only two weeks spent proudly wearing Team Canada jerseys and Vancouver 2010 hoodies, not a one was to be seen in a school of over 1800 students and 100 staff members. I brought my Team Canada jersey in a bag but ended up wearing my Vancouver Canucks shirt. A typical Canadian, I didn’t want to stand out.

However, for the Paralympics, my daughter and I decided to take the risk — to an extent. She wore her Canada-red jeans and t-shirt emblazoned with “Made in Canada” across the front, while I wore my patriotic red shirt and a white jacket. I didn’t wear my Olympic red mittens: I didn’t want to risk over-patriotism. It was easy to pick out the Paralympic ceremony-goers on the skytrain. Against the backdrop of drab usualness were telltale red toques, Olympic shirts, and Sumi keychain stuffies. We flowed into BC Place, through the speedy security check, and joined a few unapologetic red mitten wearers.

Our seats were actually above the dignitaries’ section, and only half way up the top level: perfect. Gift bags were taped to each chair and commemorative books waiting for us, complete with “Oh Canada” in Braille and the inscription “one inspires many.” We shook our white pom-poms with the flashing red lights, put on our white ponchos while others put on their green, blue, or white ones, and flashed our gold cardboard cards. Then, as the pre-ceremony rehearsal began, we practiced sign language for the word “inspire” and learned our cues to wave lit or unlit pom poms and gold cards.

Then the unpretentious, inspiring opening ceremonies of the 10th Paralympics, the first such games held in Canada, unfolded. Children emceed and danced, athletes strode or wheel-chaired in proudly, and we cheered each country on. We saved our most deafening roar for the Canadian Paralympians, as the host country entered last. But it wasn’t until we watched the visuals of Rick Hansen’s Man-in-Motion journey through four continents in his wheelchair, and then listened to CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson recount the story of Terry Fox’s hansen-paralympics_w_capMarathon Of Hope across Canada, and Fox’s charge, when he was unable to go on, for Canadians to continue his marathon, that my patriotism finally kicked in.

Sure, I participate every year in the Terry Fox run at work, but as I sat in that stadium, images of Fox’s one-legged gait playing across the arena floor, I was reminded that Rick Hansen and Terry Fox are more than just great athletes; they’re a part of my history. As a child, I gathered with my parents around the TV set in our Victoria home to hear the latest about Fox’s journey. My parents rarely watched TV, and never the news, and yet there we were, every day. We cheered Terry on, and cried when he became so ill he had to stop. We hoped for his recovery. When Rick Hansen headed out into the world, we again followed through the news coverage. These heroes lived in my lifetime. And thanks to their example and courage, people continue to be inspired.

The Paralympics are amazing in their own right, as are the Paralympic athletes. My son and I are going to a semi-final game of sledge hockey, and this time, I’m going to wear my red mittens. Proudly.