|Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper watches the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Paralympic Games. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI AGENCY)
VANCOUVER - A lone Canadian Forces trumpeter heralded the start of a two-and-a-half-hour celebration of ability as a cast of 5,000 singers, dancers, acrobats and athletes opened the 2010 Winter Paralympics in B.C. Place Stadium on Friday.
Hundreds of children in green, blue and white surrounded Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean in the shape of a maple leaf in the same stadium that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies last month. Sumi, the thunderbird and black bear hybrid mascot of the Vancouver Paralympics, flew over the pompom-waving crowd of more than 55,000 people before athletes from 44 countries rolled and walked across the floor during a half-hour parade.
American sprinter Aimee Mullins and Canadian wheelchair athlete Chantal Petitclerc of Montreal told the story of the Paralympic movement in English and French as historical images of previous Games were projected onto balloons suspended from wheelchairs.
Quebec rocker Martin Deschamps rolled in on a three-wheeled Harley-Davidson. Wheelchair rugby and basketball players clashed while amputee skateboarders and deaf motocross riders performed stunts on ramps. Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham completed an awe-inspiring 360-degree wheelchair flip among dancers, fireworks and flames.
“Sport is our common language, and because so many in the world live in harm’s way, our message of peace through sport has never been more important,” Vancouver organizing committee chief executive John Furlong said in his welcoming speech.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper looked on while Jean declared the Games open. Canadian Forces Sgt. Karen McCoy, who lost a leg to cancer, and Cpl. Mike Trauner, who lost both legs and use of his right arm to a bomb attack in Afghanistan, raised the International Paralympic Committee flag.
Globetrotting wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen told the story of his mid-1980s Man in Motion world tour before CTV anchorman Lloyd Robertson introduced an emotional tribute to Terry Fox. The late amputee runner’s parents Betty and Rolly carried the Paralympic flame into the stadium at the climax of the ceremony.
Zach Beaumont, a 15-year-old child amputee from Tsawwassen, B.C., lit the indoor cauldron while cauldrons outside the Vancouver Convention Centre and Whistler Medals Plaza simultaneously blazed back to life after they were extinguished when the Olympics ended Feb. 28.
Competition begins Saturday morning when defending gold medalist Canada meets Italy in sledge hockey.
The closing ceremony is March 21 in Whistler.