Yes, there are stories at the Paralympics

Jim Morris

Jim MorrisI was one of only three Canadian print journalists who remained in Beijing to cover the Paralympics. That in and of itself is a sad commentary of how the Canadian media views any sport that isn’t hockey, football, baseball and basketball. I had colleagues ask me why I would even want to attend the Paralympics.

Covering the Paralympic Games in Beijing after the Summer Olympics took a mental shifting of gears. Both were a lot of work, but the demands, pressures and rewards were far different.

The Summer Games commanded massive media attention involving television networks from around the world and some of the best international print journalists.  Coverage was intense. With the Internet devouring information 24/7, there were no deadlines, just a constant flow of stories and results.

The Paralympics had a more relaxed atmosphere, but the stories were just as intriguing.

The Canadian Press has covered past summer and winter Paralympic Games by writing stories from a desk in Toronto, compiling information provided by the Canadian Paralympic Committee and various sports organizations involved with the CPC.

With the 2010 Paralympics being held in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., The Canadian Press believed it was important to give the Games broader exposure. The decision was made for me to remain in Turin, Italy, after the 2006 Winter Olympics and cover the Paralympics. After my experience there, I offered to stay on in Beijing following the Summer Olympics.

By having a reporter at the Paralympics, The Canadian Press was not only able to supply print stories but also audio and video coverage of the athletes.

There is a different feel to the Paralympics compared to the Olympics, something that is hard to explain unless you have experienced both Games. The two events are similar in that they both bring athletes from around the world to compete. It’s the environment in which they operate and the aura they project that differs.

The Olympics are like traveling to a big city. There’s hustle, confusion, aggravation and you love every minute. It’s fascinating, beautiful and exciting.

The Paralympics have a small-town feel. The pace is a little slower. The people involved often don’t take themselves so seriously and are a little friendlier.

As a print reporter at the Olympics you have very little time to speak to the athletes. Plus, you have limited access during training sessions. Coaches guard their athletes so they won’t have to deal with distractions. Most interviews are confined to mix zones where athletes are quickly herded through after doing multiple TV interviews.

The tightly coiled world of the Olympics loosens at the Paralympics. There still is security, and television still gets the first interviews, but the athletes seem more relaxed. Win or lose they stop to talk. They’ll answer your e-mails. They’ll chat to you on the telephone.

Olympic and Paralympic athletes bring the same level of training, dedication and aspirations to their competitions.  Missing the podium hurts just as much sitting in a wheelchair. In some ways, Paralympic athletes seem better able to put things into perspective. Many Olympic athletes have their eyes focused only on a gold medal. Some Paralympic athletes can’t see.

Also, most Paralympians have great stories to tell. They have faced adversity but retain a sense of humour.

-Rower Steven Daniel, a former soldier, said his attitude toward life “has probably changed about 180 degrees” since a parachuting accident left him in a wheelchair. Lauren Barwick swore she would never ride a horse again after a broken back left her in a wheelchair. She won a gold and silver medal in equestrian at the Paralympics and now wants to own a stable of horses for other Paralympic riders.

-Victoria Nolan, who has just three per cent vision, took up rowing so her two children would be proud of her.

-Amy Alsop fell in love with goalball, a game for the visually impaired, at the first practice.  “It was the first time in my life the object of the game was to get hit by the ball,” she told me with a smile. “I had already established in my childhood I was pretty good at getting hit by the ball. I just couldn’t catch it.”

The Paralympics will probably never receive the same media coverage as the Olympics. As a journalist this leaves me with mixed feelings.

From an athlete’s perspective, I think that’s unfair. Paralympians deserve the same respect and recognition as Olympic athletes.

On the other hand, if the Paralympics ever climb to the same status as the Olympics, I’m sure they will lose the honest and good nature that makes them unique.

Read articles by Jim Morris

Jim Morris is a Vancouver-based sports writer who has worked for The Canadian Press since 1981. He has covered five Winter Olympics, three Summer Games and two Paralympics, and recently returned from Beijing, where he covered both the Summer Games and the Paralympics.