While waiting for Joey Desjardins, our local Paralympian, to reach Tokyo and to perform in the two events in which he is scheduled to participate, I thought it might be appropriate to bring everyone up-to-date on Paralympics themselves, their purpose, history, events, participants. I admit knowing very little of the Paralympic movement and on Paralympians until I met Joey, maybe with the exception of Chantal Petitclerc who was able to market her medals intelligently by way of her attaching smile and personality, and become a media ‘chouchou’; she then made an interesting post-career choice when named a Senator by Prime Minister Trudeau; her acceptance speech moved a lot of her colleagues and a whole nation when she said that ‘When you have a disability, the worst part is feeling as if you have no control over your own life, over your own body’.
The Paralympic Games are international competitions for elite athletes with a disability; given the wide variety of disabilities, there are several categories in which para athletes compete which are broken into ten, based on eligible impairment: muscle power, impaired movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment and intellectual impairment. Some disabled athletes did compete in regular Olympic games before the advent of Paralympics, for example in shooting events, in equestrian events, but they did so without any allowance for their impairment. The first organized event for disabled athletes took place in London, United Kingdom on the occasion of the 1948 summer Olympics and was organized for World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries; they were held again in 1952, now including veterans from other countries and thus became a precursor to Paralympic games.
The first official Paralympic games were held in Rome, Italy in 1960; these games were open to all athletes in wheelchair: 400 athletes from 23 countries took part. In 1976, more categories of athletes with disabilities were included, regrouping 1600 athletes from 40 countries. In the Seoul, Korea 1988 Olympics, a new milestone was reached: Olympics and Paralympics were hosted in the same host city, using the same facilities; this precedent eventually led to a formal agreement between both committees and was extended to also include Winter Paralympics.
As for Canada’s representation in Tokyo, here are some interesting facts and stats: Canada contingent includes 126 athletes who will be competing in 18 sports, most of them in basketball, swimming and athletics; 113 coaches and support staff will support them; the ratio female to male is 71 to 55; oldest member is 64 (fencing) and youngest is 17 (swimming); 55 will be making their Paralympic debuts, among which OUR OWN JOEY; for two of those athletes, it will mark their sixth Games; 11 provinces and territories are represented with Ontario dominating the list at 42.
For audiences at large, these Tokyo Games have been called the Pandemic Games, held through confinements, quarantines, cancellation of qualifying competitions, travel restrictions. For our athletes, they became the ‘Resiliency Games’: having to train on their own in extraordinary conditions, sometimes with no physical or mental support: Simone Biles’s breakdown and Naomi Osaka’s unexpected defeat brought mental health problems to the forefront; but great success stories like our own decathlon gold medal winner, Damien Warner, whose community in London, Ontario contributed to set up an old disaffected arena into a training centre so that he could continue his training while confined to home. Canada’s 371 athletes performed great, recording 24 medals, acted responsibly by limiting to ZERO cases of Covid. We should be proud of them all!
As for the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games, they start on August 24, and for the very first time, comprehensive live prime-time coverage will be available through broadcast sponsors like CBC/Radio-Canada and Sportsnet, and through digital sponsors like Twitter and Facebook.
As for Joey himself, he will board his flight from Montreal to Vancouver and then onto Tokyo on August 23rd and will take part in two events: a 26 km individual race against-the-clock on August 31st followed by an 80 km team road race on September 1st; his races will be held at the Fuji International Speedway, approximately three hours from Tokyo, a formerly Formula-ONE racetrack located in the foothills of Mount Fuji and he will reside in a satellite residential athlete village close by; unfortunately, as athletes must leave the country within 24-48 hours after completion of their events, he will not attend or participate in closing ceremonies. So get your agendas out and program whatever electronic devices you own! Because of extreme heat conditions, events should be taking places in early morning or early evening, so (sorry!) you’ll still have to go to work. And it seems a public outdoor projection downtown Hawkesbury is in the works… As quoted in a previous article, ‘It takes a whole community to raise a champion!’