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Canada’s first Paralympics

What began as a post-war rehabilitation effort has become a world-wide movement



The last thing any Paralympian wants is pity.

While the companion event to the Olympics may have its roots in rehabilitation, it takes far more than a disability and a competitive spirit to even think about representing your country at a modern Paralympic Games. It takes years of hard work, training and sacrifice just to qualify - and to get to the level where you're in a position to win a gold medal takes a level of dedication that most of us could never imagine.

Anyone who thinks the Paralympics are a consolation prize for people with disabilities or a lesser event than the Olympics should try to push their way around on a hockey sledge for 45 minutes while bodies and pucks fly around the ice. Or pole a sit ski around a hilly 15 km cross-country track using only their upper body strength. Or blast down the Dave Murray Downhill at 110 km/h supported by a single ski, or on a prosthetic, or with a bandana pulled down over their eyes. Sport doesn't get much harder than this.

And while good spectators will always cheer on the winners and runners-up at the Paralympics equally for the sake of sportsmanship, these events don't hand out participation ribbons - almost all of the athletes out there are going for the top step of that podium. That's what they've trained for and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

The only exceptions are the newcomers, who are coming to 2010 to gain experience so they can win in 2014.


A Paralympic history

It all began shortly after World War II. The first post-war Olympic Games took place in London in 1948 and were a welcome symbol of life returning to normal for a world that had been under the gun for nearly six years.

Just a few years before the Games soldiers returned home to England as heroes after battling the armies of Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. Some had scars they would carry for the rest of their lives. Some were missing limbs, others blinded, others confined to wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.

Recognizing the need to rehabilitate wounded spirits as well as bodies, and a believer in the power of sport as therapy, Dr. Ludwig Guttman held wheelchair races for British WWII veterans with spinal cord injuries during the Olympic Games. The first event, dubbed the Stoke Mandeville Games after the hospital and rehabilitation centre where Guttman worked, was a huge success and attracted some international attention from the Olympic press.