Two singular journeys that have inspired Canadians for years became inspirations for the world as well Friday with the start of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
From a lone voice turning into a chorus to a breakdancer on crutches then joined by an entire dance crew, the opening ceremonies for Canada’s first Paralympics were billed as a celebration of one inspiring many.
“As these 2010 Paralympic Games begin, let it not just be about our hard work or for that matter even the athlete achievements that will no doubt be unforgettable,” said John Furlong, the chief executive officer for the organizing committee in his remarks.
“Let these Games also serve to honour and recognize men and women of sport the world over who have made it their personal mission in life to use sport to build better lives, to inspire children.”
Icon Terry Fox was one of them.
His memory was honoured already during the 2010 Olympics, with his mother Betty among those who carried the Olympic flag into those opening ceremonies.
The minute his name was mentioned Friday the crowd roared.
CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson paid tribute to Fox’s cross-country run at age 18 to raise money for cancer research, after he lost a leg to osteogenic sarcoma.
“Gradually, the nation bonded with him, he came to personify the best of all of us,” Robertson said.
“He captivated, he inspired.”
For months before the 2010 Olympics, there had been a campaign for Fox’s mother to be the final torchbearer for those Games.
On Friday, the Paralympic flame passed into her hands as she and her husband Rolly carried the flame into B.C. Place stadium.
“We weren’t doing it for us,” Fox said after the ceremony.
“We were doing it for Terry.”
Their walk with the flame started a short relay which ended with 15-year-old Zach Beaumont lighting the cauldron.
Beaumont, who is an advocate for the inclusion of snowboarding at the Paralympics, had his right leg amputated as a baby.
He had been asked to do the final honours by Betty Fox herself only two days before.
“He is a very outgoing young man, he has a lot of dreams and to me he is a person that is going to fulfil those dreams,” Fox said.
So caught up in the moment, Beaumont actually missed getting on top of the rising platform to light the cauldron and had to jump up himself.
“I was really nervous before I stepped on but once you step out into the crowd it just goes away,” he said.
“It was really, really cool.”
One month ago, Man in Motion Rick Hansen had also dazzled the world as one of the five final torchbearers at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
But on Friday he had the floor to himself, his story unfolding on a giant wraparound screen before he took the stage.
“Sport gave me meaning and purpose, helped me realize that I didn’t need to be cured to be whole as a human being,” he said.
The president of the International Paralympic Committee had said earlier Friday that while he’d competed against Hansen in wheelchair basketball, he’d never known Fox.
“But every Paralympian that will be here, every Paralympian at the Summer Games, they’re all Rick Hansen and Terry Fox,” said Sir Philip Craven.
“I think it’s fantastic that Canada many years ago had taken to their hearts these two individuals but in fact there are many, many of them all over the world.”
Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean officially declared the Games open, the same role she fulfilled for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The energy at the show was just as high as it was then.
Audience members furiously waved glowing pom-poms and a cheer squad including rappers from the Yukon and a Francophone DJ welcomed over 1,000 athletes and officials from over 40 nations to the Games.
“It’s you who really find the possible, you succeed by focusing your minds, driving your bodies and achieving what many would consider the impossible,” said Craven.
Athletes looked thrilled as they entered to the dancing crowd, each team preceeded by a B.C. athlete bearing a placard with the name of their country.
One athlete from Denmark had her white cane topped with a Danish flag, and athletes from Germany and Britian turned the wheels on their wheelchairs into pinwheels festooned with their national colours.
Canada entered the stadium last, led by sledge hockey player Jean Labonte waving the maple leaf.
While it’s the athletes that will tell the story of the 2010 Games, producers also paid tribute to past Games, using 16 helium-inflated balloons as a projection surface for a collage of images.
The images were accompanied by Canada’s most decorated Paralympian Chantal Petitclerc and Paralympic swimmer Aimee Mullins narrating.
It wasn’t just the men and women of sport who were the stars of the show.
One after the other, performers – some with disabilities themselves – wowed the crowd, like Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli, a breakdancer who used crutches and his incredible upper body strength as part of a spirited performance.
Patuelli said after the show that while he’d been exhausted in rehearsals, the energy of Friday night’s crowd kept him going.
“You know in movies when you have that opening scene where you can hear the crowd roaring for a rock star?,” he said.
“That was the emotion that I got.”
Vancouver big band legend Dal Richards played as did Toronto artist Fefe Doboson.
The show was being broadcast live only in British Columbia but the rest of Canada will be able to see the program on CTV Saturday.
“I would have preferred that it was shown all over the country but unfortunately that is not the case,” said Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee earlier Friday.
“One of our core values is equality. If the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony is shown live so should the Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony.”
The Paralympics end on March 21.