Paralympic athlete brings both worlds together

Blind skier expected to be named to team

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Friday is an historic day for Canadian sport: The first real national link between Olympic and Paralympic.

It's a day to remember for every athlete who has been told he can’t — and every competitor with any kind of Olympian dream.

On Friday, Brian McKeever will make history, make Paralympians everywhere smile and maybe cry, when the blind cross-country skier from Canmore, Alta., becomes the first Paralympian named to Canada’s Olympic roster for the Vancouver Winter Games.

“We always knew if anyone could do it, he could,” said Paul Rosen, the Canadian sledge hockey goaltender, whose voice cracked with emotion Thursday as he began to reflect on the importance of what will become official Friday.

“This takes our movement into another stratosphere. Having Brian compete as an Olympian tells the world that we are athletes who do incredible things. It shows the world that Paralympic athletes are the equal of any athletes around the world.

“And the thing with Brian is, its not like he’s showing up to make a point. That’s not what he’s doing. He wants to win. I’ve talked to some (Paralympians) lately. We kind of hoped this would happen. We all think this is so unbelievable for him — and for us. Really, what he is doing here is insane, but aren’t all pioneers kind of insane?”

Brian McKeever skis in the 50-kilometre event, which is punishment enough for anyone. He does so without 90% of his vision, lost to a genetic disorder at age 19.

“People hear some blind guy is trying to make it to the Olympics and they think that’s crazy,” he said not long ago. “I understand that.”

What he may soon come to understand is what an important link he will become — has already become — from a sporting event we admire but follow from a distance to the largest most over-covered winter sporting event in the world.

What he may soon come to understand is how significant this accomplishment truly is, how awe inspiring it will be for those not of able bodies and those who are not, how this is the kind of Canadian we historically remember and cherish forever.

“If this happens, it’s certainly historic,” said Henry Storgaard, the CEO of the Canadian Paralympics Committee. Storgaard says “if” only out of respect to Friday’s announcement.

The fact that McKeever, 30, will be named to the cross-country team is not a well-kept secret.

Everybody in the high end of the Canadian sports community knows it’s happening Friday.

“If this happens,” Storgaard said, “it will change everything for us, how people perceive us. It really does represent a new era for Paralympians in terms of credibility and prestige.

“We have always been the poor second cousin to our Olympic counterparts because people don’t perceive the Paralympics the same way. But, with Brian, this will help to begin change.

“We always get asked: ‘What’s the difference between a Paralympian and an Olympian?’ And now we can answer: ‘Nothing.’ ”

Rosen, the goaltender who has lost both his legs, has known and admired McKeever since the Paralympic Games of 2002 in Salt Lake City.

“Sometimes, I close my eyes and I think of doing what I’m doing without them,” Rosen said. “I can’t believe he does what he does. I think, I’m missing my legs, but what he does seems so much more difficult. And to do it at that level, the highest level in sport in the world, I can’t begin to tell you what that means.

“The thing about Brian, he’s an incredible, incredible guy. Him and his brother Robin (his guide) are the funniest guys. They’re always going at each other. One time Brian was giving his brother a little something and Robin shoots back: ‘If you screw around with me, I’ll tell you to turn left tomorrow, right into a tree.’ And then everybody laughed.”

Not that many years ago, McKeever did crash into a tree and broke his shoulder. He recovered from that accident, recovered all the way to make Winter Olympic history, to make an entire nation proud.


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