Monday, February 15, 2010


I suppose we all find our inspiration in different places and different ways.

And yet I think that, for the most part, there are always a few common sources the majority of us draw from.

Our family. Our friends. Perhaps a legend who has gone before us in our field, whatever that may be. For others, it might be love of country. And, I suppose, for the rare few ... some super-hero. Yet most of , I suspect, find our inspiration closer to home. Often it is as close as the eyes of our children. Or someone else's.

And yet, it's not just individuals who require and rely on inspiration. So do countries.

I am happy to say that in 2010 Canada has found it's inspiration in the person of 22-year-old skier, Alexandre Bilodeau.

This is the third time that Canada has played host to the Olympics. And yet, it's the first time ever that we have won a gold medal on home soil. Have you ever heard an entire nation cheer? All at the same time?

Alexandre, in turns, finds inspiration in his older brother.

Frederic, 28, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 10 and doctors told him he would lose the ability to walk.

Although he spends most of his time in a wheelchair, Frederic still walks — and skis.

During the final of the men's moguls, cameras showed Frederic cheering enthusiastically for his brother, jumping out of his seat and waving his arms in the air as soon as Alexandre crossed the line at the end of his gold-medal run.

Alexandre, 22, calls his older brother his inspiration.

His brother has helped him keep things in perspective all these years, during which he has won a world championship but was also stung by an 11th-place finish at the Torino Olympics in 2006.

"Even if it's raining, I'll take it, I'll go train," Bilodeau said. "He doesn't have that chance, and he's having a smile every morning he wakes up."
I listened to a few different interviews with Alexandre after his gold medal finish last night. He consistently referred to his brother, how important he was and is in his life, how he is, indeed, his inspiration.

Apparently, Alexandre loved hockey when he was little. And he was quite good at it. But it was the fact that his brother couldn't play hockey that motivated him to switch to skiing. Something his brother could do with him. And although Frederic obviously doesn't compete as a freestyle skier, he is his little brother's biggest supporter.

A nice story, eh?

A 22-year-old inspires a nation. And his 28-year-old brother inspires him. It's all so ... 'feel good'. Picture perfect.

And yet, it leaves me a little uncomfortable. And perhaps this isn't the time to bring it up, the morning after our first gold-medal win at home. But, if not now, then when?

I understand where Alexandre is coming from. Maybe not completely (not having grown up with a challenged sibling at home) but pretty darn close, I believe.

He is a young man that Canada can truly be proud of. Not just for his skiing ability, not "just" for this gold medal (as if that wouldn't be enough) but also for his character. His relationship with his brother tells us not just what kind of athlete he is, but what kind of human being he is. And that's something that we can be proud of, that we all can aspire to, long after the closing ceremony is over and everyone has gone home.

My discomfort, though, arises from what happens when we hold up individuals with various challenges as inspirational. Have you ever noticed that individuals with disabilities are often portrayed as either saints or sinners - they are either perpetually sweet-natured, amazing individuals who never give up, burdens to their amazing families or a danger to society? Nothing in between. And yet, as with all of us, they are neither all of one or the other.

The Biloldeau family has obviously done an awesome job raising their two sons; they too should be a source of inspiration for us all. And yet something tells me that all the interviews, the fist-pumping and hugs between the two brothers fails to capture the whole story. The real story. The private story.

I don't doubt for one minute that there were moments of true heartache and heart-break for that family.

My beef is quite simply this - we don't give families with disabled family members the types of support (either financially or in the form of services) that they so desperately need. And we don't portray individuals with disabilities in an accurate light. Rather we tend twist their reality and hold them up as one-dimensional indviduals. Either to be cried over, patted on the head and treated as perpetual children or to be feared and controlled.

Wouldn't you agree that there has to be so much more to Frederick Bilodeua (both "good" and "bad") and his life than being his brother's biggest cheer leader and source of inspiration?

That the brothers have such a wonderful relationship is a fact to be celebrated. But at the same time, I hope we come to recognize that in the same way that Alexandre is so much more than an amazing skier, his brother, too, is a real person with his own needs, his own desires, his own life. He is a person (with all that that entails, both good and bad) just like you and I.

So now that I've said my piece, I offer you ....

Alexandre Bilodeau

At the 2007 World Cup Freestyle mogul skiing in Tignes, France.



Anonymous said...

ear Michelle, I loved your piece, I am oh so very happy for Canada for their first gold and AB is an amazing person.We love stories of this kind, the type that talk of success due to love, determination, hard work and ... inspiration! BTW, after watching the video my waist and legs were hurting! WOW!

doorkeeper said...

Painful, but so true! Thank you--I wish for this piece a far wider readership than 'just' here. This is something which should be shouted from the rooftops. Thank you.

doorkeeper said...

Oh, and GO CANADA!
I will probably be excited about the Olympics (and any other sports) when they add bull-riding . Guess I am a one-dimensional fan.