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db - Beijing: The Big Day

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db

posted 9/21/08 - 6:35 am

It is a good thing that my time in Beijing is coming to a close, as my front caster wheel on my wheelchair is at a jaunty angle. Many of the historical sights around Beijing have rough cobblestones that have been rattling my wheelchair. The front caster shakes badly at even walking speeds.

Team USA
If you want to believe in your country, attend a team sport at the Paralympics (or Olympics). It will bring out your national pride for sure. Every game of wheelchair rugby had been getting more intense and with more and more fans. We arrived at the gym a little after 5pm and things were filling up fast. By the time of the start of the gold medal mach, the 8000 seat gym was nearly completely full. Why can't we do this for Nationals? John from Seattle had saved us a spot in the wheelchair seating, just behind the half-court line. However we were a few Americans on a predominately Australian section. The Aussies turned out in their countries colors, with lots of green body paint.

The Bronze metal match was first, Canada vs Great Britian. I cheered for my former Denver Harlequins teammate, Ross Morrison of GB. The Brits played well, better than they had against the USA. However, Canada played a tight, clean game and came out on top. It must be really tough for GB to be 4th, two Paralympics in a row.

Before the game started, the cheering was in full force. Cheers of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, ,Oi" competed with "USA, USA..." Coach Gumbie started with his favored lineup of the 2s (Brian Kirkland, Will Groulx, Andy Cohn and Nick Springer). Australia has become a strong team with addition of youngster, Ryley Batt a quad amputee. He is the core of the Australian team and a powerful player. The first quarter was very close, each team playing point for point. The Aussies played strong defense and applied strong pressure in the back court. By half time the USA had used all their timeouts. Will Groulx made three uncharacteristic bad passes, trying to beat the 15 second back court time. The USA played the second strong lineup of Joel Wilmouth, Brian Kirkland, Will Groulx and Jason Regier. Joel played great offense and defense, being able to effectively stop Ryley Batt. But most of the game was played with the twos, with Seth McBryde substituting in for Nick Springer. Just before half time, Chance Sumner and Norm Lyduch came in.

In the third quarter, Team USA played super strong defense, with Nick Springer stopping Ryley Batt cold. You could see Nick's face turn red as he strained to hold the much larger and higher classified Ryley. This strong defense caused back-to-back turnovers by the Australians permitted the advantage to swing to the USA. Once the USA opened a three point lead, the Australians were out of the game. In what is sure to be a controversial decision, Coach Gumbie didn't play two of his stars, Mark Zupan and Scott Hogsett in the gold medal match, even as the USA stretched to a 9 point lead. Will Groulx was the leading points scorer, but Nick Springer was sure to be the MVP because of his incredible defense.

When the closing horn blew, the noise was incredible as Team USA vindicated themselves from their defeat four years ago. During the medal ceremony when Nick Springer's name was called the thunderous applause, made it clear that he was the crowd's favorite. Denver's Brad Mikkelson was the guest of honor who presented the flowers to gold medal winning Team USA. Brad's face was beaming, I think it may be his finest moment in his long and accomplished wheelchair rugby career.

After the medal ceremony, friends and family meet the athletes outside on the second level deck. Hugs and cheers as each athlete came outside. It was an amazing experience to share with this extended wheelchair rugby family. When Nick came out, his cheers were the biggest, as the knowledgeable fans knew the effort and determination that he had put in to win the game.

Closing Ceremony
Yes, they were amazing and beautiful, but that isn't what I will remember most. I'll remember the cheerful volunteer that went above and beyond the call of duty. When I'd ordered my tickets through CoSport I had carefully selected wheelchair and wheelchair companion seating. For the closing ceremony we ended up with two separate seats in the regular section. When we got the tickets in Beijing at CoSport's office, they just shrugged their shoulders and said that's what we were allocated.

Heading to the closing ceremony we feared the crowds and another long wait through security. We had found a better drop off location and security checkpoint during a previous day. We had our hotel instruct the cab driver very carefully as to where we wanted to be dropped off and he delivered. Security took less than 10 minutes and we were wheeling into the Bird's Nest. once there we explained to a blue shirted volunteer our ticket situation. He took us to a counter where we were issued new tickets in the accessible section. Each seat had a goody bag of items to be used in the closing ceremony (flashlight, flags, etc). Our goody bag was at our original seats. Our volunteer went and retrieved those items, really making our trip. This was yet another example of the helpful people we have meet here in Beijing.