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By Daren Lin
For Canada's paralympic athletes, getting the medal is the easy part. Getting recognition is much more difficult.
Over 1,000 athletes, coaches and officials from all over the world will participate in the upcoming eighth Winter Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Sophie Castonguay, media manager for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
Henry Wohler, chef de mission for the Canadian Paralympic team, said the Paralympic Games are often confused with the Special Olympics. The Paralympic Games are for athletes with various physical disabilities, ranging from amputations to cerebral palsy, while the Special Olympics is specifically for athletes with developmental disabilities, he explained.
"The Paralympics is a world-class event, requiring year-round personal fitness and nutrition programs. It's as serious as the Olympics," he added.
Most Paralympic sports are broken down into sub-classes according to their participants' disability and its severity, Wohler said. Canada is sending 27 athletes to compete in three sports at Salt Lake City: alpine skiing, nordic skiing/biathlon and sledge hockey, he explained.
Paralympic sports are modified to accommodate the athletes. For example, visually impaired alpine and nordic skiers compete with a communication guide, who describes the upcoming turns and jumps via a radio installed in the athlete's helmets, he said. In addition, skiers with leg amputations sit in a seat mounted on top of their skis, Wohler added.
In sledge hockey, players ride on aluminum seats mounted on a pair of skate blades, he said. The hockey players each have two sticks one end of each stick has a pick which is used to propel the players around the Olympic-sized rink and the other is used to shoot and pass the puck, he said.
Todd Nicolson, captain of the Canadian sledge hockey team, said he played traditional ice hockey until he was injured and disabled 11 years ago at age 18. "Although sledge hockey has the exact same rules as standup hockey, it is much rougher physically," he explained.
The Canadian sledge hockey team won bronze and silver at the 1994 and 1998 Games respectively and they recently won the world sledge hockey championships, Castonguay said.
"They are coming back to defend their title they are looking for gold," she said.
"If Canada wants to continue being the leader, then there has to be enough funding for training," Wohler said, adding that, unlike Olympic athletes, most Paralympic athletes do not have the financial support necessary to train full-time.
In previous years, the Paralympic sporting events received no televised coverage, Castonguay said. While still very low compared to the 275 hours that will be spent on the Olympics, the CBC will carry 10 hours of the Paralympic Games this year, she said.
The new coverage is in response to Canada' s tremendous achievement in the Sydney Paralympic Games in which Canada took home 96 medals, Castonguay added.