It’s been almost two weeks since Whistler co-hosted the 17-day sporting extravaganza. Immediately after the closing ceremonies, the Five Ring Circus and its security entourage left town.
While our Olympic hangover slowly subsides, the stage is being set for the 2010 Paralympics — a more relaxed and less intrusive event than its over-bearing cousin, the Olympics.
While the Olympics had over 5,500 athletes and officials from 80+ countries, the Paralympics will only have 1,350 athletes and officials from 40+ countries. The games will run from March 12 to 21, and events will include biathlon, sledge ice hockey, wheelchair curling, and cross-country and alpine skiing, for a total of 64 medal events.
The five rings that adorned Whistler’s flag poles have been replaced with the unfamiliar blue, red and green crescent-shaped Agitos (from the Latin word “agito,” meaning “I move”).
Life slowly returns to normal
The Paralympics feel more like a World Cup event or the Christmas hoidays. The Highway 99 checkpoints are no longer in effect and the highway is now open to everyone — not just locals, VANOC and the IOC family. I no longer have to show a vehicle permit to drive into my neighbourhood or take the bus everywhere.
There are no helicopters flying above our homes day and night and gone are the groups of police officers on all the major intersections. Local residents are no longer outnumbered by police, the military, private security and turquoise-clad volunteers. This could change once the games start on March 13.
Creekside Gondola is now open to the public and some of the previously closed runs on Whistler Mountain are open, including Bear Cub, Raven/Ptarmigan, Upper Whisky Jack and Crabapple. Three of the day skier lots are now open for public parking, while certain street closures still apply closer to the venues. “Free” tickets are no longer required to enter the nightly Medals Plaza celebrations and concerts.
Paralympics Torch Relay
The Paralympic torch relay arrived in Whistler this Monday (March 8). Sir Phillip Craven, the 2010 President of the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) welcomed the torch and helped celebrate International Women’s Day.
Unlike the Olympic flame that traveled continuously across Canada, this flame is created and extinguished by local First Nations in each celebration community, and will only visit 10 cities across Canada.
I noted two differences between the two torch relays:
1. UNIFORMS – the 600 Paralympic torch bearers actually wore an attractive blue-grey uniform (unlike the white pest exterminator/Haz-Mat uniform worn by the Olympic torch bearers)
2. LACK OF SECURITY: Absent this time, was the heavy-handed police presence and the loud, music-blaring, diesel-spewing, Coca Cola and RBC trucks driving around town. I was able to get up close and personal with most of the torch bearers without being tackled or hassled.
“SNOW DOME” Paralympic Exhibit
Whistler’s mysterious black police “pigloos” have been replaced with an inviting white snow dome. The dome is on loan from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and Otto Bock Healthcare Centre, and houses an interactive display on the history of the Paralympic movement. The exhibit is entitled “Spirit in Motion — Discover What Moves Us” and describes the development of disabled sports since 1948. When darkness falls, the exterior of the snow dome lights up outlining quotations and word-plays by well-known athletes. More info at www.paralympic.org or www.ottobock.com/2010.
Whistler Adaptive Sports House
During the Paralympics, the Dubh Linn gate Pub located in the Pan Pacific Mountainside will host the Whistler Adaptive Sports House — a place for the public to meet and greet Paralympians and enjoy good beer and food.
Funds raised will be used for the new Jeff Arbers Adaptive Sports Centre, located at Olympic Station on Whistler Mountain. This two-storey, stand-alone building at mid-station will become the new home of the Whistler Adaptive Ski and Snowboard Program (WASP).
WASP program offers adaptive ski and snowboard programs for sit and stand-up skiers, and visually and hearing impaired individuals. Instructors trained to use specialized equipment, techniques and adaptations specific to the client’s disability and have taught children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD/ADHD, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy (and various other disabilities) to ski and snowboard.
I am looking forward to watching these remarkable athletes compete starting this weekend. It’s evident that having a disability does not mean living a limited life, as these Paralympic athletes will demonstrate in the coming weeks.
To learn more about facilities available for disabled visitors in Whistler, please visit www.whistlerforthedisabled.com.