Vancouver: A Paralympic Primer

Taylor Kennedy, a Vancouver local who works with National Geographic Image Sales, spent last month giving us an insider’s perspective on the Olympic Games. Today, he reports from the Paralympic Games, which concluded on Monday.

The Paralympic Games have an added twist that the Olympic Games did not have for me. It involved the sheer incredulity and utmost respect for what each of the athletes were doing. How do you ski with missing limbs? The short answer is: really fast.

The downhill ski races were split into three categories, though all raced on the same track. Each contestant is given a rating based on how their handicap affects them, which, when combined with the time of their run, is tallied accordingly. The three categories are: A) Upright skiers. These contestants are standing and skiing, only these skiers ski on only one leg, or with a prosthetic leg. B) Sled skiers. Here, amputees or paralyzed skiers ski on a special sled. C) Visually impaired skiers, who ski with a partner who tells them when turns, hills, etc. are coming up.

Frankly, at times the skiing was pretty overwhelming to watch. A skier who is partially blind racing down a hill guided by a partner is impressive. Watching Viviane Forest

on her gold medal run catch a little air going over the last hill above the finish line–a hill you know she can’t even really see–literally made me gasp in awe at what she was accomplishing.

Nathalie Tyack ripping down the hill on one leg made my own ache just watching. My legs burn after a good hard ski run, and I have two legs to share the pressure. The athletic prowess of going down a run on one leg at those speeds is incredible to watch–and keep in mind that this is the very same Franz’s Run track that the women Olympic athletes used. The sleds are no easier to balance on at those speeds. Watching them lean into the curves and shred the hill is just inspiring.

Lauren Woolstencroft’s gold medal win in the standup category was impressively fun. Impressive because she is skiing so fast, yet born with no legs below her knees and without her left arm below the elbow. Fun because being from Vancouver, she had a huge fan base around her waving flags and banners with her name on it. Seeing the events in person, you really are reminded that these athletes are going to be celebrating with their families and friends soon after. It doesn’t just end for them when the TV gets turned off, like it does for all the rest of us that day. It was fun to see up close how excited and happy they all were and share vicariously in their celebration…a celebration that was only just beginning!

The atmosphere around the rest of the town of Whistler during the day was festive. Walking back from breakfast at Nita Lake Lodge (awesome breakfast served there right on the shores of Nita Lake) the cowbells were ringing and fans painted up and draped in flags. Though busy, there were no crazy lines to wait in for anything and there was a relaxed, yet spirited feeling in the air.

One more thing: On the topic of food–breakfast or otherwise–Whistler is an surprising spot. From the variety of cheaper meals like the sushi (try Sachi)

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and burrito spots (try Dups) to higher end delicious ones like the Bearfoot Bistro (massive wine selection), Araxi (awesome fish) and La Rúa (try their cassoulet), choosing which to go to is the only hard part.

The restaurants are getting into the Games too: At the Bearfoot Bistro the owner has a standing offer that any gold medalist can come in to open a bottle of champagne with a saber!

Photo: Taylor Kennedy

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