'Special' kind of win

SCOTT ZERR, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Brian McKeever looked upon his victory at the Birkebeiner yesterday with a great sense of accomplishment. Sure, the Calgarian had won a host of other international cross-country races before, but this was something special for McKeever.

At the age of 19, McKeever slowly began to lose his sight, and now, six years later, he's became a first-time Birkie winner as a skier with a disability.

GENETIC AILMENT

A genetic ailment called Stargardt's disease has left McKeever with almost complete central vision loss, but it has also rewarded him with being the three-time defending champion on the World Cup disabled-skiing circuit in the men's blind category.

"I think this shows people that just because you have a certain disease that it doesn't limit you one bit in your performance," said McKeever, who hit the finish line in the 55km lite (no pack) division in 2:38.49.

"I think some people are surprised when someone with a small handicap can race with the top guys. I don't know if it's an added incentive for me. It's a race and I wanted to win."

McKeever, who won seven races on the 2004 World Cup tour and two golds at the 2004 Paralympics in Salt Lake City, may not be the first athlete in mind when it comes to attaching a role model label, but he matches the criteria.

And even though he's found success in the most competitive of events, his actions can be followed by even casual participants.

"I think the message I can send is that people with disabilities can go out and at least have fun," said McKeever.

"And they can take it as far as their disability will allow them. It shows that disabled sport is competitive and that we're not a sideshow. This is the real deal.

TRAIN JUST AS HARD

"On the World Cup tour, disabled athletes train just as hard as able-bodied athletes. I don't think you'll ever see someone with no arms win this race, but they can still be competitive.

''It's not fair that just because you have a disability, you should have to stay home."

Coming in behind McKeever in second spot was Red Deer's Kit Richmond at 2:40.20 and Calgary's Sean Crooks at 2:43.35. The top female was Gudrun Pfleuger at 3:05.57, good for 18th overall.


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