Paralympians are more than high-performance athletes. They are powerful agents of social change and integration. Each of them not only faces significant life challenges, but they choose to overcome them and move on. They choose excellence, performance, winning in the face of adversity. Some may say they are the ultimate role models.
As a former Paralympian myself, I stayed away from that narrative. After all, athletes are athletes, with the same drive to be the best. They want to train, they want to push their limits, they crave the competitive adrenaline and they want to be on that podium. They are not on a mission to change the world. But I have to admit — having retired for long enough to gain perspective — that our Paralympians give Canada more than medals. Call it a side effect of what they do, but they make a difference, just by being who they are. They are living proof that diversity is our strength. They show the country that when we decide to be inclusive, everything is possible.
This month, Canada is sending 55 women and men of among the finest winter Paralympians to Pyeongchang. From that team, the largest contingent is in para ice hockey with 17 players. Twenty-five athletes will be making their Paralympic debut and 18 members of the team have Paralympic medals on their resumes. They trained as hard as any of our elite athletes do. They have access to the same funding, facilities, support and responsibilities. They will bring home medals, stories of pushing their own limits and they will make us proud.
Here in Canada, they will continue to inspire thousands of Canadians. To all kids with disabilities, they say: You can do anything. To all potential employers, they prove: I can work for you and, in fact, I can be a leader. This is powerful. This is inclusion in action. It has a continuous, lasting impact on how we see persons with disabilities.
Internationally, I would dare to say that the Paralympic movement has contributed greatly to universal access, recognition and inclusion for persons with disabilities. When a country like China, or Korea, where there are still many stigmas around persons with disabilities, is chosen to host the Paralympic and Olympic games, it changes everything. There are some obligations that come with being a host country, and one of them is to commit to accessibility.
Practically, accessible lodging, competition and training facilities are built. And this is a legacy that remains, well after the games. It changes the everyday life of thousands of persons living with disabilities in countries where there are still many barriers.
This is why when we choose to support the Paralympics, we not only get behind amazing athletes — we contribute to a more inclusive world.
Chantal Petitclerc is a senator representing Grandville, Quebec. She has won 21 medals over the course of five Paralympic tournaments.