Combine Paralympics and Olympics, founder urges 

First competitions for people with disabilities were in rehabilitation hospitals 

By JEFF LEE, Vancouver SunMarch 11, 2010 2:02 AM  

The Paralympic Torch is passed on in a relay around Riley Park, close to venues for the Paralympics on Wednesday.  

The founder of the International Paralympic Committee wants to see the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games combined to take advantage of the kind of public support Canadians showed at the 2010 Olympics.

Dr. Robert Steadward, a retired Edmonton-based sports medicine doctor, said Wednesday that operating the Paralympics at the same time as the Olympics would also create efficiencies for the host organizing committee and help further integrate people with disabilities into society.

“I believe what we need to do is look at the full inclusion of Olympic and Paralympic [Winter] Games together. The athletes are still separate, but they
can share the village, the transportation, all of the expertise that is here,” he said. “Why wait 10 days and have to re-energize the spirit that was in
this city and this country for two and a half weeks just last week? If we could have been incorporated in that whole situation, which I think can happen,
what a wonderful presentation.”

Steadward said he didn’t make his views known to the Vancouver Organizing Committee, which structured the Olympics and Paralympics as two events. But he said future Paralympic Winter Games could easily be incorporated into the Olympic frame.

In a sign, perhaps, of the growing popularity of the Paralympics, Steadward made the comments at a luncheon hosted by an Olympic and Paralympic sponsor — Cold-FX — with guest speakers Don Cherry, the Cold-FX pitchman and Hockey Night in Canada star, and Paul Rosen, the goalie for the Canadian Paralympic sledge hockey team. Rosen declined an interview request with TSN in order to attend.

The event attracted several hundred Paralympic supporters, including politicians, firefighters, military officers and business owners. Cherry delivered
his trademark bombastic commentary about the state of hockey, but he saved a special word for his friend Rosen, whom he called “the world’s best sledge hockey goalie,” and predicted that on March 20 Canada will successfully defend the gold medal it won at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin.

These will be the final Paralympics for Rosen, who turns 50 this year. He said that ever since he lost one leg at 39, he’s wanted to be an inspiration for
people with disabilities. His message, he said, is extremely simple: “I am a regular guy who is a member of a team that has done some incredible things. What I’ve done is because I’ve chosen to take a terrible negative and turn it around into a positive.”

“What I want to emphasize to kids nowadays is that you don’t have to settle for mediocrity. There is nothing wrong with striving for greatness and reaching for the stars and trying to be the best. Not everybody can, but if you don’t try to be your best, what’s the point?”

Rosen’s inspirational attitude is exactly what Steadward said he had in mind more than 40 years ago when he began working to help create a worldwide sports organization for people with disabilities.

“I’ve always been about people with disabilities being role models and ambassadors,” said Steadward, who served as the first president of the International Paralympic Committee for 12 years before retiring in 2001. Forty years ago, he said, “there really weren’t a lot of people in the world who could go into a hospital with young disabled kids or adults with spinal injuries and provide them with some inspiration to become more independent, self-sufficient and go back to work or get an education.”

At first, events for people with disabilities were held in rehabilitation hospitals where they were patients. The first official Paralympic Games was held
in 1960 in Rome, but it wasn’t until 1984 that Steadward created a manifesto, “Restructuring of Sport for Athletes with a Disability,” which led to the
creation of the International Paralympic Committee. That document, endorsed by 40 countries, became the basis for support by International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, leading to the first co-organized Paralympic Games, held in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 right after the Olympics.

“I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and have to pinch myself because I look at what the Olympics have achieved in nearly 120 years, and we are just 20 years old, going from 40 to 175 nations,” Steadward said.

He doesn’t think it is possible to integrate the Summer Paralympics with the Olympics because the two events would strain resources.

“Summer, when you’re dealing with 15,000 athletes, would be near impossible. It would stretch accommodation and transportation, but I certainly believe
it could happen within the Winter Games,” he said.

The Vancouver Olympics drew 5,500 athletes and officials; the Paralympics, which open Friday, will draw 1,350. But the support and media attention is significant. More than 10,000 journalists and broadcasters were in Vancouver for the Olympics. For the Paralympics, the number is dramatically smaller.

Steadward thinks running both Games simultaneously would work.

“We want to take advantage of their structure and success and it is also a way for us to become integrated and a part of the whole superstructure of sport
in the world. I mean, why reinvent the wheel? They’ve got good sponsors, good media support, good rules and regulations and technical elements.”

jefflee@vancouversun.com

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