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Making Olympic History in Canada: An Evening with Brian McKeever

The excitement continues to build as the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games return to Canada this February-March for the first time in 22 years.  On January 14, 2010, one of our Olympic-qualifying athletes was on hand at Colonel McLeod School in Calgary, Alberta in order to share with the audience his hopes, dreams, successes and failures with respect to his sport of choice; Nordic Skiing.  Brain McKeever, a Calgary-born athlete now based in Canmore, qualified for the Olympics this past December in the 50 km distance on his home course in Canmore.  While this is an impressive feat in itself, McKeever also happens to be legally blind, as he began to lose his vision at the age of 18 to Stargardt’s disease.  Now with only 10% vision, McKeever has qualified to compete in both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in Vancouver this year.  On January 22, 2010, the Canadian National Cross-Country Ski team will announce whether or not he will be eligible to compete in both games, which would make him the first Canadian in history to do so. 

McKeever is no stranger to world-class competition.  He has competed in the past two Paralympic games and won a total of seven medals with the help of his guide skier, brother Robin McKeever, who is also a former Olympian and world-class Nordic skier.  The McKeever brothers began their foray into Nordic skiing from an early age, thanks to the interest and support of their parents. 

The event, co-sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired - Calgary Division and the Calgary Board of Education, was an inspiring evening for all who attended.  The audience, consisting primarily of teachers and families of children who are visually impaired, were moved and encouraged by McKeever’s story.  McKeever described his vision loss as something that “…has made me the person that I am today, and I like who I am.”  He also recited a quote from the blockbuster movie Shawshank Redemption to describe how he overcame his adventitious vision loss at the age of 18; “You get busy living or you get busy dying” – and living he has certainly done!  He made the cross-over to the Paralympic side in 2001 and he describes the Paralympic games (which stands for ‘parallel olympics’ rather than ‘paraplegic games’ as many people think) as the “..same thing as the Olympics, only smaller and more fun!” 

The Olympics became a goal for Brian in 2006 and he began assembling a team including Dr. David Smith from the University of Calgary, in order to help him accomplish this goal.  McKeever estimates that he has devoted approximately 800 hours of training per year for the past four years in order to achieve his dream.  While he has experienced set-backs during this time period, including a broken rib and shoulder in 2008 and the swine flu in 2009, Brian relates that he “was comforted by the knowledge that I was trying to do something that I believed in”.  With respect to his qualifying race in Canmore, Brian recalls that it was the ‘easiest race I’ve ever skied’.  While there is no doubt that the enormous amount of training that went into that race played a huge role in the outcome of the race, McKeever also shared some other tips and tricks that he has used in order to accomplish what he has so far.  Brian’s list includes:

1. Dream big dreams.  In Brian’s words, “Dreams ignite our passion for life”.mckeever1
2. Set tough but realistic goals.  To illustrate this point, Brian quoted a sign at his elementary school, “We want every child to achieve their dreams, but we want them to stand on their tiptoes to do it.”
3. Ask for help.  He believes that this has made all of the difference for him since his decision to train for the Olympics back in 2006.
4. Importance of team.  Brian credits a large amount of his personal success to celebrating as a team and coming together as a team.  In fact, his teammate Dan Rycroft, played a huge role in helping Brian win the qualifying race in Canmore this December.
5. Have fun.  Brian relates that this value, instilled in him by his father, is perhaps the most important ingredient to his success.
6. Find something positive in everything.  In other words, look at every challenge as an opportunity.

The evening concluded with a slideshow depicting Brian’s many travels over the past year while gearing up for the games, followed by a lengthy question-and-answer period from the audience.  Brian was forthcoming with his responses to the audience and proved to be a wonderful leader not only in the sporting world, but in the world of vision loss as well.  Thank you Brian for a wonderful evening and best of luck to you in the upcoming games!

Update: On January 22, 2010, the Canadian Cross Country Ski Team announced that Brian McKeever would indeed become the first Canadian in history to compete in both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.

Click here to read the complete article on the CCCS’s decision to send McKeever to the Olympics