The 1988 Olympics in Calgary was a defining moment in my life.
I was in Grade 3 at Varsity Acres Elementary School where my dad was the physical education teacher. I was too young to remember the announcement and vaguely aware of the previous Games in Los Angeles, but in the year leading up to the Calgary Games, I was fortunate to receive a sort of “sport awakening.”
We were an active family, spurred on by dad’s love of the outdoors and his belief that activity and physical literacy were as important as other forms of education. Being fit and healthy also helped us focus in school, and sports taught us how to work in groups, commit to a team and set goals.
Growing up, my brother Robin (an Olympian who went on to guide me to my first 10 Paralympic medals and is now the coach of our pra-nordic team) and I didn't have a TV.
Well, we had one but it didn't work. My folks kept it, all broken in its oak cabinet, as a centrepiece to the living room where it displayed dust-collectors and taunted my brother and I with its promise of cartoon entertainment. My brother and I would spend our free time outdoors playing many sports and sharing our parents' love of activity.
Then "we" got the Games, and dad, the sports fan he is, decided to get the TV fixed - just so we could watch all the events. Now, as a seven-year-old kid, such a momentous development suddenly made me aware of the mounting excitement and sense of occasion the Olympics promised. I may not have known what it was all about, but if it was important enough to fix the TV...
The Calgary Olympics ended up being an inspiration to me and provided a wealth of educational opportunities. Our class wrote about our favourite sports in language arts, studying the different nations in social studies, running our own torch relay in the schoolyard and, not to mention, polishing our singing pipes with O Canada.
Robin, then an up-and-coming cross-country racer, was involved in the Nordic events as a volunteer forerunner for the races. The job was to pre-ski the race course to ensure it was ready for competition. I can only imagine the excitement the kids would have felt to be included as a part of the Olympic experience, and to watch their heroes compete for the first time live and in person. I'm sure it was a spark that lit the fires of Robin's own ski career which saw him compete at the Olympics 10 years later in Nagano.
From both an entertainment and activity perspective, the Calgary Games left a legacy that provided my family with many recreational possibilities. From skating at the Olympic Oval to attending Calgary Flames hockey games at the Saddledome, from school downhill ski lessons at Canada Olympic Park to watching multiple international competitions at the venues, I had the opportunity to become inspired, to learn new skills, and finally to pursue my own dream of a career in sport.
The construction of the Canmore Nordic Centre gave the skiers of my generation a world-class venue. I moved to Canmore, Alta., in 2000 to further my career. Robin had been there since 1991, paving the way for me to follow. Along with dozens of athletes and hundreds of other cyclists, runners, hikers and skiers, I use the Nordic Centre on a daily basis. It's my second home.
There have been knock-on effects of the journey that Robin and I have been on since '88 as well. Through his transition into coaching, Robin has tirelessly worked to give young athletes the inspiration and guidance to become fit, healthy individuals and great skiers. His son is developing into a great young skier himself, and he takes advantage of our legacy facilities that we often take for granted. It seems like they've always been there, but in reality, without the '88 Olympics, they may never have existed.
As an athlete with a disability, I sometimes ponder the notion of normalcy. What we consider to be normal are the things we see every day. I’ve noticed how attitudes shift in very tangible, palpable ways towards people with disabilities as more folks gain exposure to Paralympic sport. Through this exposure, a disability begins to seem "normal," to the point we stop seeing it as different altogether. Through my Paralympic career, I have seen an increase in awareness around important social considerations such as accessibility concerns and a passionate dialogue regarding overall inclusion. I have seen the power of sport facilitate this shift and I am proud of the role sport plays in these matters.
I'm nearing the end of my career. When I think of the future, my hope is that my younger teammates and future generations of kids will have even more opportunities to learn the benefits of fitness and activity, but also to grow up without preconceived barriers to their success and happiness. As far as I'm concerned, a barrier only becomes one if we, ourselves, allow it.
I am overwhelmed with the role the ’88 Games played in my life. I will never forget it, nor will I ever take it for granted. It helped shape who I am and where my life has taken me. For that, I consider myself eternally fortunate.
(Large photos by the Canadian Paralympic Committee)