Vancouver Paralympic Games – Torch Relay

The Paralympic Torch was ignited earlier last week just a few hundred meters away from Canada’s Parliament, on Ottawa’s Victoria Island by Aboriginal firekeepers of the Pikwakanagan and Kitigan Zibi Algonquin bands.

For the first part of March, more than 600 torchbearers will carry the flame leading up to the March 12 start of the Paralympic Games in Vancouver. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, was the first stop.

The flame then reached Quebec City Thursday, Toronto last Friday and then on to several communities in British Columbia. The Paralympic cauldron will be lit at BC Place in Vancouver, marking the beginning of the 10-day Winter Paralympics.

In Ottawa, Paralympian torchbearer Arnold Boldt, of Moose Jaw, Sask. high-fived Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he carried the Paralympic Torch through the House of Commons on Parliament Hill last Wednesday, and then down the steps past dozens of schoolchildren and then circled the Centennial Flame.

Boldt is a five-time Paralympian. There, the flame was handed to 15 other torchbearers at the ceremony, including Justine Belair of Eganville, Ont., who was selected as a representative of Canada’s Aboriginal communities. The final torchbearer was marathon runner Rick Ball, who was selected by the Vancouver Olympic committee; he is a 2012 Paralympic Summer Games hopeful.

In British Columbia, the Paralympic torch relay started in Esquimalt and then proceeded by boat to the provincial capital, Victoria. The first person to carry the torch was Capt.Trevor Greene, who suffered a severe head injury in a 2006 axe attack during a Afghan village meeting, while on duty. Greene, now 45, is still recovering and hopes to relearn to walk on his own.

Trevor Greene certainly won a gold medal Saturday in the hearts of those who watched the former Canadian Forces reservist push his wheelchair slowly down Lyall Street in Esquimalt. He carried the Paralymic flame on the first of a 31-leg tour of Greater Victoria.

No one put more effort into the task than Greene, whose war injuries left him paralyzed and unable to breathe without assistance.

Greene, dressed in the Paralympic torchbearer’s gray uniform, sometimes gasped for breath as he propelled his manual wheelchair down the street. Everyone there urged him on!

“You can do it, Trevor,” shouted many in the crowd. Others chanted his name.

The torches have limited gas to keep them alight, and Greene’s had to be replaced several times, but his smile never dimmed as he made his way down the block. He was followed by his fiance Debbie Lepore and their five-year-old daughter, Grace.

The crowds in Greater Victoria were the largest and most enthusiastic yet for a relay.

The flame has been lit anew in each city. Here, Songhees elder Mike Charlie Sr. and his son, Mike Jr., sparked the day’s flame by putting a lighter to split British Columbian cedar.

The other 30 local torch bearers each had their own reasons for taking part. Some have had afflictions since birth and have triumped over their adversity and dire sentences. The Paralympics very much celebrates the Human Spirit, and I sincerely hope that the Games will be well-attended, as the effort required is so much more than for the able-bodied.

Brian Gray, 61, another torchbearer, was born with cerebral palsy and the doctors didn’t give his parents much hope. But, he learned to do all the stuff the doctors were sure he couldn’t do — drive a car, play hockey, swim, skate and ride a bike. He says: “Some of the biggest obstacles that people with disabilities face is low expectation.”

The Paralympic flame was taken from West Bay to Laurel Point by a navy boat and dragon boaters.

Then, Rick Hansen, 52, who won world acclaim for his Man in Motion world tour in 1985, was waiting at the B.C. legislature to take his turn with the flame.

“To be part of this, to help kickstart the Paralympics, it’s a fantastic moment,” said Hansen, a gold-medalist in wheelchair-racing in the 1980 and 1984 Paralympics.

“You don’t see any disability in their persona and their actions,” said Hansen of the Paralympic athletes.

“The entire country and world will be inspired by these athletes and realize that people with disabilities can do anything once they set their minds to it.”

Premier Gordon Campbell said: “Every one of these people is an example of how you can lift yourself up with what you want to do and dedicate yourself to it. They are great examples for all of us.”

As for Capt. Trevor Greene, the effort demonstrated Saturday is typical of what Greene has invested throughout his recovery from the devastating brain injury. He has learned to talk again and to shake hands. This year, he hopes to reach another major milestone:

“My physio says I can take my first steps this year,” he said, smiling, during in an interview prior to the relay.

His clear message to others facing huge odds is to never give up!

“If I can do it, you can too,” Greene said.

The relay precedes the start of the first-ever Paralympic Winter Games held in Canada. About 1,000 athletes and officials, from more than 40 countries, will take part in five sports. The Games run from March 12-21 in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

We expect the same Olympic spirit that Canadians exhibited during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will carry over when the Paralympics Games begin next week.

John Furlong, head of Vancouver’s Olympic Committee (VanOC) said: “The Paralympic movement in this country is very large and grand and Paralympic sport plays right to the human spirit.”

He said Vancouver and Whistler are ready to welcome the athletes who will be participating in the Games.

Come and enjoy!

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