Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Prologue - Begin from the Beginning

The last time we were in Vancouver, we took our then 2 year old son, Tyler, up to Whistler and rode the gondola to the top of the hill. It was a sunny March day and the locals even commented on how perfect it was. With 100% visibility and clear blue skies, we stood Tyler in his little Canada flag hat in front of the Vancouver 2010 flag at the top of Whistler and snapped a picture. Vancouver was a strong contender for the 2010 Winter Games, Whistler was abuzz with hope and excitement, and, four months later, they won the bid. Vancouver 2010 was born, and a few months after that, Tyler's little sister, Erin, was, too.

Tyler, age 2, at the top of Whistler in 2003, a few
months before Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 Games.
The Vancouver 2010 Games are an exciting event for our nation, but even more exciting when you're part of a family that's sent a representative to the past four Games. To understand the full picture from my perspective, let's back up to the winter of 1989.
I was a Grade 9 student at West Carleton Secondary School the first year it was open. A group of wheelchair basketball players came to my school to put on a game against the Students' Council. When I started dating Gordie Nicholson a few years later, I made the connection to an old grainy black-and-white photo in my high school yearbook - Todd Nicholson was one of the players at my school that day. Thinking back now, when that picture was taken it had been a little over a year since Todd had had his accident, and just months since he'd been released from the Ottawa Rehab Centre. Returning to sport must've been natural for the boy from Kinburn who had played sports all of his life, but I didn't realize until later how remarkable it was for him to go out into the community to demonstrate his new skills so soon after he'd been injured. I didn't realize that these first appearances he'd made demonstrating his abilities would set the groundwork for the community figure that many know and have grown to love today.
West Carleton Secondary School Yearbook (1988/89)
Todd is in the front row, 3rd from the right
You don't necessarily have to marry into the Nicholson family to become a part of the Nicholson Clan - this will become apparent as I get further into our Vancouver 2010 story - so, as Gordie's girlfriend, I got swept up in the excitement as Todd and the other local boys went off to their first Paralympics in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. Carol and Stuart, his parents, went, too - how could they not? - and with no television coverage, and home Internet not yet mainstream, we would get updates on the scores via regular faxes to the RBC in Kinburn. That March, we all boarded a school bus at the Kinburn Community Centre and welcomed our Bronze Medallists home at the Ottawa airport.
I married into the clan in 1996. Gordie and I attempted to watch Todd at the Paralympics in Nagano, Japan on dial-up Internet in our little house in Marathon Village at all hours of the night. We were able to see the live text feed, but the heads moving across the screen took a minute to catch up to the bodies moving across the screen. Carol and Stuart were there again - and we greeted the boys at the airport again with their shaved heads (Stuart, too!) and their Silver Medals.

In 2002, the Clan took the show on the road to Salt Lake City, Utah. Carol and Stuart (of course!), Gordie, his brother Kevin and nephew Andrew driving 52 hours cross country in a Winnebago. Tyler (1 year old) and I flying in later, and brother Jason, Jolene and some friends and cousins meeting us all there. We totaled around 17 friends and family members, plus we picked up a few "honorary" clan members along the way. Team Canada got an honorable mention that time, but finally we were starting to see the Paralympics hit mainstream media, with nightly updates on A&E and more newspaper coverage than ever.

The Nicholson Clan at the 2002 Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah
A couple of years later, in 2005, Todd got really sick. He had an infection that just wouldn't heal. Long hospital stays, specialists scratching their heads, daily visits from the VON, fever, antibiotics through a pick line - the chances of being well enough to travel, let alone train and compete, to Torino at the 2006 Games was looking pretty dismal. These were sad days when we not only feared for Todd's dreams, we feared for his life. But our Todd has something very special inside of him - his parents told him from the time of his accident to never give up, a message that he delivers every time he speaks to school children. This is the fire that drives him through life every day. In the months leading up to Torino 2006, Todd was the embodiment of this phrase: "When you need help, ask for it. Never Give Up." Todd finally got out of the hospital - I think he just got in his sled and slid right out of there. He trained very hard in an impossibly short time. He made it to Torino with his teammates. His parents, three brothers, two sister-in-laws, nephew, niece, and one Mike Cavanagh (honorary Clan member from Antrim). Watching the games live on the Internet from home with the kids, I saw Todd make his body do things I wasn't sure he'd be able to do again. He was so very thin. He slept a lot. He mustered the strength, courage, and determination to carry the Canada flag into the stadium, leading Team Canada into the Opening Ceremonies and sustaining it to lead his team on to a Gold Medal win.
Mind. Body. Spirit. These are the three principles of the Paralympic movement and Todd is a master of them all. In just a few weeks, we are going to come through on a promise we've made to our kids their entire lives, something we've talked about, planned, and dreamed for 8 years. We are going to the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver to watch Uncle Todd compete. The delegation of family, friends, and neighbours - the Nicholson Clan - will be 55 strong. Carol and Stuart will be there, of course, Todd's wife Emily, and three very young 11-month old babies: Todd & Em's twins, Gwen and Tate, and Jason & Jolene's baby boy Jayden.
Encouraged by promises of good media coverage through TSN and CTV broadcasts of the Games, we are very excited that everyone at home will be able to follow this tournament on live national television for the first time ever. Gordie & I are very much looking forward to sharing our experience with you, our community, more personally through this blog as the Nicholson Clan once again hits the road for Vancouver 2010.

Todd attended an assembly at Stonecrest E.S. on January 27, 2010 and
then paid a special visit to Erin’s Grade 1 Classroom.
Many thanks to Jason Marshall at Metroland
for helping us get the word out!!!


  1. Nice blog Jenn! Now I have another one to read :)

  2. Hi Jenn, I am related to Todd through his wife's family. I and my family joined in on the Carp fundraising festivies. It was so great to see Todd and the Team and to see them play! WWe really look forward to following you and the Team at the Paraolympics. Thank you for doing this!! Meg McGarry

  3. What a fabulous idea!
    Jenn, truly a pleasure to read.
    I look forward to following Todd and the team in Vancouver.
    Safe travelling.