The Olympic Winter Games may have just come to a close, but the Paralympic Winter Games will shortly begin at the same venues. Although sporting events for disabled athletes have existed for over a century, the first Paralympic Winter Games occurred in Sweden in 1976, with events ranging from para alpine skiing, to wheelchair curling, and sled hockey.
As a Marine veteran, former Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (and a Comcast customer!) has been an ardent supporter of the Paralympics, and was personally engaged when the Paralympic Winter Games were held in nearby Vancouver, British Columbia. That year, he led a delegation of 30 disabled veterans (each with a guest) from Oregon to attend the Paralympics with the goal of inspiring the vets to recognize that a disability doesn’t mean the end of participation in sport. The initiative, dubbed “Get a Vet in the Game,” included three days of activities at The Games, and was a personal highlight of the Governor’s eight-year administration.
Governor, why are the Paralympic Winter Games so important to you?
As a veteran myself, and especially as Governor of Oregon, creating opportunities for veterans has been a lifelong endeavor. Oregon’s National Guard soldiers were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan while I served as Governor. Those soldiers and their families paid a heavy price for doing their duty. Attending the Paralympic Winter Games, just to see what the possibilities were for them, to not sit on the couch, “hating life,” as one of them said—that’s important. And it was important for Oregonians to support them.
I remember you insisted on making the seven-hour bus ride up to Vancouver with the vets, rather than take a quick one-hour flight to the Games.
Seldom does a Governor get to do something that’s both important AND fun. The bus ride was my chance to get to know these veterans, their lives and experiences, and their guests. As a group, we served in different branches of the military, in different wars, but the “veteran experience” holds us together always.
The Canadians really rolled out the red carpet for the delegation, including a swank reception with a cadre of high-ranking government and military officials. That was also the night you had the opportunity to try out sled hockey: the para equivalent of ice hockey.
I am sure that my security detail was alarmed. I remember distinctly thinking that I could hurt myself. But it was good fun. The athletes were gentle with me.
The delegation was honored to have an Oregon veteran carry the torch in the Paralympic Torch Relay. You must have been very proud.
I was proud. That man was Luke Wilson, from Hermiston. I met him after he lost a leg in 2004 in Iraq, when he asked me to go elk-hunting with him. That’s when I realized that if veterans could see other veterans be successful… what an inspiration! For all of us!
What do you remember of the Opening Ceremony?
Mostly I remember being inspired by the athletes and the array of sports competitions. And being grateful for the businesses – like Comcast – and individuals who contributed to support the efforts of Oregon’s veterans in making the trip to Vancouver.
Governor, even a decade later, your passion for the Paralympic Games is clearly undiminished. I’m happy to let you know that this year NBCUniversal coverage of the Paralympic Winter Games will include more than 230 hours of programming, including live coverage of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies on USA Network, the first-ever Paralympic Winter Games primetime coverage on NBC, and live streaming coverage on Peacock. I know you’re a Comcast customer: I assume you’ll be tuning in?