By Craig Davidiuk
Watching the 2019 World Paranordic Championships in Prince George was an incredibly entertaining and inspirational experience. One hundred and fifty athletes from twenty five countries descended on BC’s Northernmost city for a week of top level competition. The event took place February 15th to 24th.
I spent four days at the games as a volunteer for ceremonies and the media centre. It’s an experience that I’ll never forget.
For those of you that are new to Paranordic sport, here are the cheat notes. The event is split into two disciplines. Biathlon and Cross Country.
Biathlon combines skate skiing and target shooting. Athletes complete a loop course and then have to attempt to clear five targets. Cross Country is Nordic ski racing using classic or skate strokes.
Within each event you’ll find people who are sitting or standing. The standing athletes will typically be affected by a missing limb or blindness. The visually impaired folks will have guides with them. The sitting athletes usually are affected by lower body mobility issues (ie paralysis of legs).
• Biathlon sprint
• Biathlon individual
• Biathlon middle distance
• Cross-country sprint (free technique)
• Cross-country middle distance
• Cross-country long distance (classic technique)
• Cross-country relay (open/mixed)
You can learn about the classifications and time factoring here
Each athlete is given an assessment prior to competition to determine a math weighted formula for competition placement. The higher the degree of impairment, the slower the clock runs. This is part of what makes Paranordics so exciting to watch! One never knows until the race is over, who the actual winner is.
The Caledonia Nordic club took on the organization of the event and it was approximately a 2 year build up. This established Nordic club is an amazing venue and was the perfect setting for this event. Temperatures hovered between -5 to -25 for the week allowing for some perfect racing conditions.
The event featured six races a day and a couple rest days. Each evening after the races, athletes would meet up at the civic centre for medal presentations. This gesture gave the community and chance to celebrate with the athletes as they received their World Championship medals.
During my time at the event, there were three things that left an impression on me.
The first thing I noticed is that after one day of the games is that I stopped seeing people in wheelchairs or people with missing limbs as “disabled”. When one is exposed to athletes with challenges on daily basis, you just stop seeing and feeling the negative stigmas of the disability. Now I just see gifted athletes who are incredibly committed to their sport. That was a powerful transition for me and I found myself looking at all competitors in a different light after the opening ceremonies. My hotel was the same that housed the athletes so there was many chances to strike up a conversation or congratulate an athlete on winning a medal.
It’s also interesting to see the camaraderie between the athletes. They compete against each other several times a year and it’s a very small pool of competitors. Some of the athletes live in different countries than they compete for and even train together. So to say this group is tight knit, would be an understatement. It’s also nice to see how happy everyone is for each other when they win.
My company supplied the medals for the event and I felt a tremendous amount of satisfaction when seeing one of these world class athletes receive one of our medals every night. In the hotel elevator I spoke with a German athlete, wearing his medal after a victory ceramony. He was super happy that his stylish maple leaf medal was the reward for his biggest accomplishment as a Paranordic athlete.
“It’s not round! I love it” he exclaimed.
Determination is in abundance at this event. You can’t compete at this level without it. During competition I witnessed a young lady sit skier who collapsed at the finish line from exhaustion and was carted away in an ambulance. Three hours later, she literally left the hospital to go collect her medal. Prior to going on stage to collect, she hoists herself out of her chair, with the help of her guide, to walk on stage and collect the medal. You can see from her face how painful every single movement is. She is un-phased. There was absolutely nothing that was going to stop her from getting her medal. I’ll never forget that moment and I’ll draw inspiration from it every day.
The final thing that inspired me was seeing a young local girl in a wheelchair out at the event in -20 weather cheering on the athletes for hours. She proudly waved a Canadian flag and spent way more time outside than I could handle. This is probably the most poignant example of the power of the Paralympic movement. It creates hero’s for others who struggle with mobility. It gives them something to cheer for or even participate in. This has inspired me to facilitate more access for Para-nordic athletes at the 100 Mile Nordics club.
Prince George as a host city went above and beyond everyone’s expectations. The community and nordic club support was nothing short of monumental. They have hosted their first International caliber event and it’s probable it won’t be their last given how successful this one was.
The main thing that is coming up short for Paralympians these days is spectators and sponsors. I personally find this type of sport more “on message” with what the Olympic movement is really about. Paralympians compete in dozens of sports and you can follow the movement at paralympic.org
Craig Davidiuk is a board member with the 100 Mile Nordics and lives in 108 Mile Ranch, BC