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Confessions of an Olympic Smurf

March 18, 2010

I went to the Olympics because I was ticked off. I was sitting in my friend’s living room watching Vancouver’s Opening Ceremonies in London, Ontario asking myself why the heck I wasn’t there. While I know the Olympics is an expensive game for the few, it still manages to inspire the many. I count myself among those who succumb to the athlete’s triumph against all odds storyline despite the ideological and ethical challenges the Games present. (I am not the only one who noticed that someone scooped up all the homeless people.)

I flew to Vancouver and then I flew back. On Friday March 5th, I applied online to be a volunteer at the Paralympics. The next day I was interviewed, and faster than you can say sledge hockey, I was back in Whistler receiving a uniform and role: Team Leader at the Whistler Medals Plaza, God help me. I knew nothing and no one. My neighbour’s son, Whistler lawyer Sholto Shaw, kindly opened his home so I had a bed and a host. Hire him: he has the decency gene, looks like a movie star and eats whole wheat pasta. I know I peeked in his cupboard. (Plus, his mom told me he’s been voted Whistler’s best lawyer for four years.) Check him out at www.raceandcompany.com/lawyers/sholto.htm

It was time for my first meeting but I was afraid to put on my Smurf blue uniform; the minute you do people ask you questions and questions were all I had. The next day, armed with the knowledge of a gnat, I dressed for my first shift. As I put my arm inside the left sleeve of the jacket, I noticed the inner mesh pocket perfectly designed to hold the Team 2010 notebook. Sewn on top of the Velcro closure were the words “With Glowing Hearts/Desplus Brillants Exploits.”

The Olympics are all about wow and here, in this tiny moment, was mine. I didn’t know why I felt compelled to return to Vancouver. Maybe it was the unbridled joy and strategic resistance on Vancouver’s usually chillaxed streets (thank you activists for your tent city). Maybe it was because every time  I saw volunteers, they were so genuinely delighted to be of service that I wanted to join. Maybe the answer was this literal tagline “With Glowing Hearts.”

I watched the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies and  saw athletes in wheelchairs clearly loving walking in even if they had to roll. A few walked like my Dad, a leg swung out from the hip instead of bending at the knee. It was in the presence of that absent moment, the body’s engineering miracle of a knee bend that I was reminded of him.

Polio gave my father a broken walk. The older he got the more he fell and the more he fell the more he broke. Not his spirit, he never complained. I grew up in the shadow of this courageous man without realizing it until he and his shadow were gone. I had come back to give back; just don’t ask me where to park.

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