The 2008 Paralympics begin today.
It wasn't at all difficult for me to boycott the Olympics. I was so disgusted by Beijing, the IOC and everything surrounding the Games, that I had no desire to watch anything.
The Paralympics - the Olympics for athletes with disabilities - are different. I love these games. I know dozens of former and current Paralympic athletes, and I've been involved with disability sports, through my writing, for more than 20 years. I've also just spent a good chunk of my summer talking to North American athletes who are competing in Beijing. I can't help but feel hopeful for them, and eager to see their results.
But I won't.
Well, I will need to look up some results to slug into stories, but I won't do any more than is necessary.
Rather than try to explain why I love the Paralympics so much, I'll reference an old story of mine. I wrote it for Sportsjones.com, which was a terrific, in-depth online magazine about sports and society. Naturally it was bought out by a huge commercial sports publisher, then immediately killed. This is what happens to interesting writing ventures that need commercial funding. You can see the front page of Sportsjone's final edition to see the kinds of stories they ran.
When the Paralympics were in Atlanta in 1996, I wrote about them extensively. Leading up to Atlanta, I wrote a series of stories for New Mobility magazine, then covered the Games themselves, a crazy, exhausting and wildly enjoyable week, and a highlight of my writing career. I also sold a fair amount of Paralympic-related stories to more mainstream newspapers and magazines. It was a sizeable leap in my resume.
Four years later, for the Sydney Paralympics, I did some preview stories, but by that time I had tired of writing the kinds of stories that most mainstream venues want. I can write the overcoming-obstacles, doesn't-let-disability-stop-him story in my sleep. Every Paralympic athlete has overcome tremendous obstacles. It comes with the territory. On its own, as writing material, it's just not that interesting to me anymore.
So in 2000, the only Paralympic stories I wanted to write were ones that no one wanted to publish - until I found Sportsjones. Allan wrote for them, too, which was fun.
Here's the Sportsjones story (in pdf). It's long, but not as long as the page numbers would indicate; many pages have only a line or two of copy.
In response to this story, I received the best blurb of my entire writing career thus far (scroll down to "more information").
The blurb writer is the indomitable Russ Kick, who edits the "Disinformation" series: You Are Being Lied To, Everything You Know Is Wrong and Abuse Your Illusions, among other books. Shameless self-promotion, yes, but praise like this is very rare in a writer's life!
I also received some very negative feedback from families involved in the Special Olympics, who didn't care for my characterization of that event. That was interesting, too.
If you do read the Sportsjones pdf, there is good news. By 2004, the USOC was shamed into doing the right thing. Funding has been restored, and vertical integration is standard now, in both the US and Canada.
I wish my friends in Beijing a lot of luck. I hope it's a great experience for them. I'm sorry I won't be watching.