Theo Gmur won three golds on his Paralympic debut at PyeongChang 2018

What are you doing with your time these days? Watching the Winter Olympics was almost addictive. I recorded all of them, so I could fast forward past commercials and events that were rather tedious to watch, like the skiing that took hours and hours.

I had my favourites. Figure skating is the best for me and I was amazed at their performances.  I, who sprained my ankle at the one and only lesson I had. It was all very glorious and exciting. Truly, I couldn’t grasp how they stood on their skates, let alone move on the ice and leap into the air with a quadruple bound!

Many years ago, my beloved friend Stash Serafin wanted to skate in the Olympics. (See YouTube, Stash Serafin). He is a figure skater, blind from birth and some engineers created a small motor to put on his skates so he could do a figure 8, as he couldn’t see the ice. The Olympic Committee, in its infinite wisdom, would not allow it because it would give him an advantage over other skaters.  HE IS BLIND FROM BIRTH AND TEACHES SIGHTED SKATERS NOW!

I spoke with him today.  Unfortunately his website went down and he has to get it fixed. He hasn’t found anyone so far. We shall see. He always finds someone and that’s his aura. He even appealed to medal winners to no avail. He is going to be skating May 5th at a rink in Chestnut Hill and I will post that when I get the details. He is one of my heroes.

Stash Serafin
Stash Serafin

 

So, the games were all very enjoyable and the Koreans were gracious hosts according to the contestants and so very enthusiastic for all team performances. I’ve never seen a host country so friendly and yes, charitable. The opening and closing sessions of the Paralympics were incredibly creative and a joy to watch. Of course, in the former Olympics when North and South Korea entered together, Vice President Pence couldn’t get himself to his feet in spite of this historic occasion. Say no more, wink wink.  A good reason why politics should not be anywhere near sports of any kind. It’s a totally different aspect of life – sports.

There are a few changes I’d like to see. You knew I would. When the skaters left the rink after a performance and took their blade covers from those sweet little Korean children, wouldn’t it be lovely to smile at them and say thank you? I saw one American skater do that……..just one. No other nationality. Yes, it might be a small thing. I think it is important. One more thing. The athletes are either Men and Women or Gentlemen and Ladies. When I posted that, there were others who picked up on it. Make up your mind media.

Then there’s the camera crew. They did a great job and I have to remember this is an American programme so obviously the emphasis is on American athletes. However, at the closing ceremony when speeches were made, thanking the Koreans for their amazing hospitality, their openness to applaud whichever country won medals, that the camera could have been on those Koreans.  Instead, almost throughout the entire event the cameras were on the United States teams. Not good.

The difference in the Winter Olympics is there is little rah rah rah and their friendships with athletes from other countries is so important. I didn’t hear a lot of “USA USA USA” like I did in the summer Olympics and I was delighted when athletes from all countries congratulated those from others. That is what the Olympics is all about, from the time it started in Greece all those years ago. For me, it is the most exciting meeting on the Planet Earth.

I am a former athlete.

 Ah! I know – what a shock. Not a competitor in the Olympics, sorry to say. I was a sprinter, a hurdler. I played field hockey, and something called Netball, which is a bit like basketball, but you can’t run with the ball. Three seconds and it has to be passed or else! John was an athlete too. Competitive cycling, wrestling, cricket and so on. When I met him, the muscles on his legs were like tennis balls.  My “sort of” father was a London taxi driver, which was part of his anger issues. He hated his job. I can understand why as an adult since he had a remarkable literary interest and loved music. For nothing else I am grateful that he taught me so much about books and music. He loved opera.   I didn’t, but other than that – amazing. He could go to a musical show and come home playing the entire score by memory. However, I am off kilter here. You know. The Grasshopper Brain.  The reason I mentioned him was that being a taxi driver in London he absolutely refused to let me ride a bicycle due to the accidents he saw. I regret that to this day I cannot ride a bike!

So now we come to the Paralympics.

My heroes. What has really surprised me is how few people knew about this amazing sports event. Just about everybody I spoke with did not know of this Olympics, where the most amazing people in the world compete. I reminded my son, who is a Flyers fanatic, to watch the sled hockey. These astounding men and women played ice hockey, some with one leg, others with no legs, all ages. Some from accidents, others the Military and those who were born with a challenging condition. I couldn’t believe my eyes – so fast and accurate.

When Korea played Italy and scored the only goal, I jumped up and yelled, Yessssssss! They won and the Koreans weren’t the only ones crying. I love the “not expected to win a medal” contestants and more than that, to win a Bronze Medal in front of their home fans was spectacular. The two teams to watch were Canada and the United States. I couldn’t’ move, I was so entranced. It was electrifying. The United States won. A brilliant performance. Congratulations to team Canada too. Fine and talented competitors.

Prior to sled hockey, there were skiers who had one limb, or none. Those with only one arm used one ski pole, others with no poles at all. The blind skiers just took my breath away. They were guided by radio from their supporter, who skied behind them and told them where to turn, left or right, sharp or blunt bends. Their speed was every bit as fast as those with sight and limbs. In addition, there were another set of skiers who were also blind. They did the ski trail and then shot rifles into targets. One woman got a perfect score. I couldn’t do that with 20/20 vision. Think about it, skiing with no or very little sight and then shooting into a target they couldn’t see.  I mean……………….really?

Then there were the skateboarders. Holy Cripes (Brit talk). They did exactly what their Olympics competitors did, only with fewer limbs. These athletes are at the peak of their strength and accuracy. How anyone could watch them without being gob smacked I do not know. They flew, literally, twisting and turning. In the downhill skiing they are rated on what the level of disability was although I couldn’t see anyone who was disabled. Can you see I was impressed? That’s a friggin’ understatement. Truly, there were times I could hardly breathe.

Then there was a sport that has become one of my favourites. Curling. I am not quite conversant with the scoring. Impossible at first and then gradually I got the gist of it. More to learn and I know where to look. To watch these teams in wheelchairs achieve their goals was astounding. Hey, I’m running out of words: Astounding, astonishing, amazing, incredible, unbelievable, gob smacking (Brit for I can’t believe my eyes), magnificent, outrageous. Really, I have to be repetitive in this area.

It was art, courage, tenacity, determination.

What came to me was that people who weren’t even interested in sports, could gain a lot from these events and those who performed them.

It was art, courage, tenacity, determination – sheer brilliance.  It was entertainment of the highest order. Sheer skills performed with major challenges that were not challenges to the performers.

 The opening ceremony of the Paralympics was sheer joy and celebration; an introduction to Korea and their culture. A mixture of old and new Korea with so called disabled athletes climbing that enormous staircase to light the flame. Breathtaking is an understatement.

Most of the media were excellent.  Many former Olympians were interviewed, and some were commentators during events. With all the glory I felt, the only criticism I have is that they talked almost through the closing ceremony where there were some very lovely musicians, bands – the new Korea – singers, dancers. Those of us blessed with sight and hearing didn’t need that commentary and I doubt those who couldn’t see or hear learned very little from them.

Leaving a Trail

There were some sensitive featured areas of celebration with some extraordinary people who were recognised for their courage, humanitarianism, enthusiasm. Like the woman who was paralyzed and became a physician, creating treatments to encourage people who had a similar condition to her own and finding ways where athletes could compete at sports events. Dr. Whang Youn Dai is another. For thirty years she has dedicated her life to working with disabilities. One of the men who won her award years ago said it best. YOUR PASSION STILL INSPIRES US. What she did and continues to do, although now wheelchair bound and having undergone surgery for a cancerous growth in her neck, is gigantic in magnificence.

Also, in the closing ceremony, the new Director of the International Paralympics, Andrew Parson, spoke of Professor Stephen Hawking, (whose death was not mentioned by the White House,) who was such an inspiration to all of us (well perhaps not all of us).  As you all know he died recently having lived with ALS for many years and was, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant scientific minds in the world. Professor Hawking spoke at a previous Paralympics. He said to look at the stars and not at your feet. Makes sense to me. Genius.

So not only were these men and women former champions, they now spend a great deal of their time training young athletes and being totally inspirational, showing that people can overcome almost anything in terms of sports. I was overawed (that’s a new one word!). These athletes followed their bliss and turned their disabilities (although I still do not like using that word) and changed them into challenges. A very crucial aspect to this is the support of families and friends. It’s a wonderful thing to believe there are people who know others can achieve anything if they choose to. I am reminded of a card John sent to me and I keep it close by especially when some comment on why I work at my age. What the hell has that to do with my sharing experience, hope, strength and purpose? I digress. Emerson wrote………………” Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” That applies to all of who have a passion/s.

I am still leaving a trail.

If you didn’t see any of these marvels, you can find them online I am sure. It is certainly worth it. They simply made my heart almost burst. My country did well too and I was delighted to see that considering it is about the size of Pennsylvania.

For me, like no other gathering, it was one of achievements to the highest degree. I am so grateful. At the risk of being called over dramatic, these Games have changed my life and perspective.

Fortunately, I embrace my age, using the freedom it gives to be as passionate in which I believe – unendingly.  Knowing I can achieve anything I wish. The blessing is that I do not respond to anyone who tells me it is time I retired, that I shouldn’t over do it, are you still driving, and by yourself? That it’s time to have people care about me (they do – lots of them). There is a very special group who I love. They are bereaved parents with no filter. I met them through homicide, suicide, rape of children. I love and trust them implicitly as they have known hell and are thrivers.  They are just wonderful men and women; champions in their own right.

In closing I am reminded of one of the best compliments I ever received from my son Colin. He was in Target with his wife and two daughters some years ago. When he checked out, it so happened that the cashier also worked at my bank. She looked at Colin’s card and asked somewhat breathlessly, “Oh, are you Dr. Yvonne Kaye’s son?”, to which he replied, “Why, what has she done now?”.

And the beat goes on.

More on the Paralympic Games

Video on Stash Serafin

 

 

 

 

About the 2018 Winter Olympics

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