McKeever a true inspiration

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — It’s always about the journey, but there is no path to the Olympic Games that quite compares to that of Brian McKeever.

You listen to him and your breath is taken away. You hear his words and you realize you are looking at the real hero — maybe the greatest hero — of these Olympic Games. You begin to understand how it is a blind man can cross country ski 50 kilometres on the final day of the Olympics, the first Paralympic athlete to compete in the Winter Games.

An historical achievement for an athlete who seems just strong enough, just clever enough, to embrace the history and yet be humbled by it.

“I’m not going to stand up here and say I’m going to win medals,” said McKeever on his first day in Vancouver. “I don’t have this kind of experience.

“I’m not necessarily focussed on winning a gold medal, but I am focussed on results … The one thing that I can say it’s really exciting and I’m certainly going to go out there in peak shape and when I hit the finish line, I want to be able to say I had the best race I could on that day. Whatever the result is, I’m going to take it.”

At a teenager, just after he made his first international appearance at a world junior cross-country ski event, McKeever began to lose his vision. Like his father and his aunt before him, he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease. Initially, he had trouble seeing billboards. “The large letters would pop in and out,” he said. McKeever began one semester of university sitting at the back of lecture halls and finished the semester unable to see the blackboard from the front row.

“Within two years, I was declared legally blind. The best way to describe it is like flash bulb eye. Somebody shines a bright light at you and get that you get that fuzzy blob.”

His problems with sight coincided with his older brother Robin’s disappointment of not qualifying in cross-country skiing for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. Robin had skied in Nagano four years earlier.

“He was at the peak of his career when the diagnosis happened,” said McKeever. “All these emotions rush in and you try and make sense of it. You fear the worst and within a few weeks, when I started to take stock of what was important, I looked at my dad and saw how he was able to deal with it his whole life and. I thought, it’s best just to get on with living life because otherwise it passes you by.”

McKeever asked his brother to be his skiing guide. And while six years separated them — “that’s a lot when you’re kids” — they have forged an inseparable bond. When McKeever won his seven Paralympic medals, his brother was his guide.

“When we get out there, it is Robin’s job to get me from start to finish as fast and as safe as possible. With that, you always have someone there encouraging you, supporting you,” said McKeever.

Except Robin isn’t here: He is actually home in Canmore training for next month’s Paralympics. McKeever is not allowed a guide of any kind at these Games. He is on his own.

“I’ll just have to find some fast wheels to follow,” said McKeever, who has peripheral vision but cannot see straight ahead. He has skied the Olympic course on numerous occasions. He has a videotape at home he has studied as best he can. He will navigate with the little he sees, but mostly what he feels.

“Theres no real bitterness,” said McKeever. “You can’t change the hand you’re dealt. The best thing to do is get on with it. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I saw better. Yet, maybe that’s who I am and I like the person I am.”

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