Paralympics open with rocking ceremony

More than 5,000 performers of varying ages and abilities were part of Friday night's Paralympic opening ceremonies in Vancouver, dazzling a capacity crowd at BC Place stadium during the two hour show.
The Paralympic cauldron burns during the opening ceremonies in Vancouver on Friday. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

Two singular journeys that have inspired Canadians for years became inspirations for the world as well on Friday with the start of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games

From a lone voice turning into a chorus to a breakdancer on crutches and then joined by an entire dance crew, the opening ceremonies for Canada's first Paralympics were billed as a celebration of one inspiring many.

"As these 2010 Paralympic Games begin, let it not just be about our hard work or for that matter even the athlete achievements that will no doubt be unforgettable," John Furlong, the chief executive officer for the organizing committee, said in his remarks.

"Let these Games also serve to honour and recognize men and women of sport the world over who have made it their personal mission in life to use sport to build better lives, to inspire children."

Icon Terry Fox was one of them.

CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson paid tribute to Fox's cross-country run at age 18 to raise money for cancer research, which began after he lost a leg to osteogenic sarcoma.

"Gradually, the nation bonded with him. He came to personify the best of all of us," Robertson said. "He captivated, he inspired."

Terry Fox's parents Betty Fox, left, and Rolly Fox carry the Paralympic flame into the stadium. ((Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press))

For months before the 2010 Olympics, there had been a campaign for Fox's mother, Betty, to be the final torchbearer for those Games.

On Friday, the Paralympic flame passed into her hands as she and her husband, Rolly, carried the flame into B.C. Place stadium, starting a short relay that ended with 15-year-old Zach Beaumont lighting the cauldron.

Beaumont had his right leg amputated as a baby and had been asked to do the honours by Betty herself.

One month ago, Man in Motion Rick Hansen had also dazzled the world as one of the five final torchbearers at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But on Friday he had the floor to himself, his story unfolding on a giant wraparound screen before he took the stage.

"Sport gave me meaning and purpose, helped me realize that I didn't need to be cured to be whole as a human being," he said.

The president of the International Paralympic Committee had said earlier Friday that while he had competed against Hansen in wheelchair basketball, he had never known Fox.

"But every Paralympian that will be here, every Paralympian at the Summer Games, they're all Rick Hansen and Terry Fox," said Philip Craven. "I think it's fantastic that Canada many years ago had taken to their hearts these two individuals but in fact there are many, many of them all over the world."

Declaring games open

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean officially declared the Games open, the same role she fulfilled for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The energy at the show was just as high as it was then.

Audience members furiously waved glowing pompoms and a cheer squad including rappers from the Yukon and a francophone DJ welcomed more than 1,000 athletes and officials from 40-plus nations to the Games.

"It's you who really find the possible, you succeed by focusing your minds, driving your bodies and achieving what many would consider the impossible," said Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee.

Athletes looked thrilled as they entered to the dancing crowd, each team preceded by a B.C. athlete bearing a placard with the name of their country.

One athlete from Denmark had her white cane topped with a Danish flag, and athletes from Germany and Britain turned the wheels on their wheelchairs into pinwheels festooned with their national colours.

Mexicans shook maracas while American athletes high-fived the children forming a tunnel to cheer them into the stadium.

Canada's Jean Labonté carries the Canadian flag during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Paralympic Games. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

Canada entered last, led by sledge hockey player Jean Labonté waving the maple leaf, the team looking awed by the energy.

Though Canada's first sledge hockey match was Saturday morning, Labonté said he didn't think being in the ceremonies would affect his game.

"I've been pretty good so far. I will go through my regular routine," he said. "Tomorrow morning is another day, tonight is for celebration."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gamely waved his lit pompom while B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell whipped around the Canadian flag that's become his constant companion since February.

While it's the athletes that will tell the story of the 2010 Games, producers also paid tribute to past Games, using 16 helium-inflated balloons as a projection surface for a collage of images.

The images were accompanied by narration from Canada's most decorated Paralympian, Chantal Petitclerc, and Paralympic swimmer Aimee Mullins.

"We are here to be inspired by the Paralympians gathered in Vancouver," said Petitclerc. 

King of Swing

Vancouver's King of Swing, Dal Richards, also made an appearance, leading his big band in a tribute to Paralympic winter sports.

The show is being broadcast live only in British Columbia but the rest of Canada will be able to see the program Saturday on CTV.

"I would have preferred that it was shown all over the country but unfortunately that is not the case," Craven said earlier Friday. "One of our core values is equality. If the Olympic Games opening ceremony is shown live so should the Paralympic Winter Games opening ceremony."  

The Paralympics end on March 21.