Athlete insists he is "blessed" by his blindness.
Blind Canadian cross-country skier Brian McKeever will make history in Vancouver as the first winter athlete to compete at both the Paralympics and Olympic games.
McKeever, who has the hereditary and degenerative Stargardt disease, started losing his sight aged 12. By his late teens, he was legally classified as blind. Now 30, the centre of McKeever's retina and focus are irreparably damaged. It has left him with 10 per cent vision, all of which is peripheral. In 2000, American distance runner Marla Runyan became the first legally blind athlete to make the United States Olympic team.
Runyan, winner of seven Paralympic medals, finished eighth in the 1500 metres.
Four-time Paralympic gold medalist McKeever will race with a guide, his sighted brother Robin, at the Paralympics next month, but races the Olympics alone in the 50km on Feb 28 in the Olympic Park. McKeever, from Alberta, booked his place in the Canadian team for Vancouver by winning an able-bodied 50km race in his home town of Canmore in January. He had prepared four years for the race.
"As a kid I had the dream of representing Canada at the Olympics, but as I started losing my eyesight, my Olympic dream was in jeopardy and I swapped it for a Paralympic dream," McKeever said.
Is this a dream now? "Probably, but whatever it is, it's a dream come true. I feel lucky – it's a great opportunity. I've put in all the hours – I train with the able-bodied team. As much as my team-mates are excited to have me aboard, they also aren't surprised. They all know the work we put in; we train together on a daily basis. I'm not the token Paralympic guy, I'm another guy on the team. It has been a hard journey to get here.
"I don't see well downhill and on corners, and I have to give up a few seconds here and there."
So, double gold? He exhales loudly. "I just want to leave it all out there on the day – first, middle, or last – with no regrets. I think we can live without medals but I think you shouldn't live with regrets."
McKeever thoroughly inspects the course and commits it to memory before a race. "I need to know the course really well, there is extra mental work with recalling the course."
Nor is it some stunt by the Canadian selection committee. Testimonies from team-mates are stunning. "He's a standout athlete and a standout person," said Sara Renner, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist.
"He's a really hard worker and he never ever talks about his disability. I don't even notice it because he accepts nothing but his very best. Nothing holds him back. He is a real inspiration to all of us – and just an incredible athlete."
Likewise team-mate Devon Kershaw: "You see him in the evening trying to read something and his face is right up against it. You know the struggle that he has gone through to get to where he is. He is such an inspiration to us all."
Brian McKeever competes in the 50km cross-country race in the Olympic Park on Feb 28, 5.30pm.
Posted By Kelsie Struch