Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who will be the "heroes" in 2011?

It is hard to believe that it has almost been a year since Vancouver hosted the 2010 Olympics.  As the year 2010 came to a close the Olympics were on all of the Canadian top 10 news stories of the year.  The transformation, even for a short time, of our city, province and country was amazing.  The sea of red and white in downtown Vancouver was awe inspiring.  It was a once in a lifetime event that I will always remember. 

I wish we could hold on to those emotions and the amazing stories that came out of it.  For two weeks students were focused on the amazing feats of athletes who, more often than not, competed for the love of the game.  While the 2010 Games did open up with the tragic death of the Georgian slider Nodar Kumaritashvili, it also opened up with the determination of the Georgian Olympic team, marching in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in black armbands in honour of their fallen comrade and receiving a standing ovation as they entered the building.

The first Canadian gold medal was won by Alex Bilodeau, who immediately went and embraced Frédéric, his brother with cerebral palsy.  He demonstrated great humility in those interviews when he was the golden boy of our nation as the first ever athlete to win Olympic gold on Canadian soil.  He could have gloated, he could have bragged, he could have behaved in many ways and yet when asked about his struggles and challenges, he minimized them in comparison to his brother's.  Rather than talk about himself he talked about his admiration for his brother, and how his brother was his inspiration.  He also donated his winnings from the gold medal to Pediatric Health Centres for cerebral palsy and encouraged other athletes to do the same as well.

Joannie Rochette's mesmerizing performance after the sudden death of her mother was one for the ages. I doubt that there were many dry eyes after her performance and the emotion she showed following the conclusion of her last skate was heart-wrenching.  The strength and determination that she displayed was breath-taking.  Clara Hughes, as inspirational a Canadian athlete as any, won another medal in these games. She is the only Canadian to ever win medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympics and is tied for the most medals ever won by a Canadian athlete.  She was instrumental in the 2006 games for promoting Right to Play, becoming an ambassador for the organization and donating her winnings to the cause the she trumpeted and had many other athletes follow her example.

There were many other amazing performance by Canadians such as Lauren Woolstencroft winning 5 gold medals in paralympic ski events, Brian McKeever who became the first athlete to be named in a Winter Paralympics and Winter Olympics team in the same year, although he was not chosen to compete on the final roster for the cross-country ski event during the Olympic Games.  He dominated his events in the paralympics with his brother as his guide, but his times would have allowed him to compete in the Olympics. His challenge, as a legally blind skier, would have been to ski the course without the aid of a guide.  To be top 50 in the world where visual clues are critical to a good time because of slopes and turns is an outstanding achievement, and competing against others who do not share that same affliction is impressive to say the least.

While many will remember the golden goal by Sidney Crosby, there was so much to celebrate from these games in terms of character, perseverance and generosity.   There were many amazing examples for children of all ages to appreciate.  Our students showed the same enthousiasm for all of these athletes as many of the Tweens did when Justin Bieber came into town.  Something I came to realize this year is that the students are amazed by many feats, they just need to be exposed to them.  We had the opportunity to invite a Canadian Paralympian from the Beijing games.  She was a torch bearer for the Paralympic torch and the students were very excited to meet her.  She commented to her mother later that the kids made her feel like a star. Many of the students were talking about how cool it was to meet someone who went to the Beijing games.
 When we invited a veteran to take part in our Remembrance Day assembly, the kids demonstrated incredible enthousiasm when greeting his as they left.  What this taught me was that we need to do a better job of introducing positive role models to our students.  We have amazing people in our communities.  There are many children looking for someone to emulate and look up to.  While it is difficult to compete with the tabloids, TMZ and other celebrity-afflicted media, we can help them identify with those who give back to their communities hopefully instead of those who become prima-donnas, and expect everything to be catered to them and seem to only take from the community.

There are many ordinary people doing extraordinary things in our communities.  We have amazingly talented kids in our schools and our school communities.  I need to do a better job of finding them and introducing them to our students.  We can either present them real heroes or let media dictate that the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Charley Sheen, Kanye West, Brett Favre or Lindsay Lohan are the ones to emulate.

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