Monday, March 22, 2010

USA hockey gold medal

The 2010 Paralympic Games have ended with a much sweeter outcome for USA hockey than we saw last month. Sled hockey, that is. Team USA didn't just win the gold medal at the Paralympic Games, they dominated every team. The games are set up tournament style, much like the Olympic Games. The U.S. beat Korea 5-0, Czech Republic 3-0, Japan 6-0, Norway 3-0 and Japan again 2-0 for the gold medal. (Japan beat Canada, which helped them advance to the gold medal game while team Canada played Norway for the bronze. Norway won, Canada did not medal in sled hockey.)

Team USA played five games and did not allow a single goal in the entire tournament. That is amazing. But that's just one of numerous amazing things I witnessed in the Paralympic coverage.

Every night last week at 11:00 p.m., I deprived myself of sleep to watch the Paralympic highlights. During this time, I watched amputees play hockey, I watched blind people ski down the hills in Whisler - slalom style. My jaw hung open, thoroughly impressed, as I watched a man with no arms cross-country ski. To my amazement, the event I was watching was not just cross-country skiing, it was Biathlon. He then proceeded to the shooting range, then got back up and finished his 12.5k cross-country ski. This was Josef Giesen from Germany, who went on to win the bronze medal.

Watching these athletes affected me very, very deeply. I enjoy watching sporting events and competitions, but the perseverance I saw in these athletes was awe-inspiring. Watching these people overcome the odds and achieve this level of competition is indescribable. You simply have to see it for yourself.

Therein lies the problem. NBC owns the rights to the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics, but they made the decision to show only the two hours of highlights on Universal Sports - a channel that most people don't have, or may not even know if they have it. Unless you go out of your way to seek out the Paralympic coverage, it is very easy to let the events just slip by you. I'm glad I did not let that happen, but I can't help but question who is making decisions for NBC. They decided not to show these games, but they had plenty of airtime for the Marriage Ref and other sub-par reality television.

It really perplexes me that there was so little broadcast coverage for the Paralympics. I understand that there is not an audience for them like there is for the Olympics, but there never will be if the public never has any exposure to them. It makes no sense. All of the tragic backstories of the athletes were dragged out and mentioned endlessly throughout the Olympic Games. The whole world wanted Joannie Rochette to win a medal for figure skating after her mother passed away. The suspense of whether or not Lindsay Vonn could compete with her shin injury was built up to a climactic and triumphant finish when she won the gold medal.

I don't wish to diminish the challenges the athletes faced, but I do wish to point out that perseverance and overcoming tragedy is a big theme every year in the Olympics. Yet the Paralympics, where every athlete who competes has already overcome odds, is not even mentioned in the mainstream. Du Haitao of China lost both of his arms playing with high-voltage electricity wires when he was four years old. Two of the four U.S. gold medals were won by Alana Nichols, the first woman to win gold medals at both the winter and summer Paralympic Games. I could go on and on, but I will spare you any additional rambling. I would simply like to argue that a double amputee does not compare with an injured shin on the tragedy scale.

Everyone in life feels discouraged at some point, and most of us have felt sorry for ourselves, feeling like the odds are against us at any given time. There is nowhere better than the Paralympics to truly witness the strength of the human spirit. If you ever find yourself feeling powerless and feeling sorry for yourself, watch a visually impaired person ski slalom down a hill. Or someone with no arms ski cross-country without poles. It will put things into perspective real quick. I hope the 2012 Summer Paralympics find a bigger audience. I also hope that the fact that Russia won more Paralympic medals than any other country helps ease the sting they felt at the Olympics. It's good to know that some Russian jobs are safe this time around.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

If only I had become Mrs. Corey Feldman...

We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture. Magazines like US Weekly, Star, and OK! line the shelves with enticing photographs of famous and beautiful people, with hints that their lives may be even more miserable and complicated than our own. Perez Hilton and the hard-working folks at TMZ work tirelessly to keep us up to date on how truly screwed up the lives of celebrities are. Many people eat this stuff up and escape their own mundane day-to-day lives by immersing themselves in the glamorous and tragic lives of celebrities. I am not one of those people.

Most popular culture celebrity references go right over my head. Unless it's Kanye West on an awards show during a slow news week, I'm pretty oblivious to what's going on in the lives in the rich and famous. The reason I feel it is necessary to explain how removed I am from celebrities is because I'm inclined to do something that feels very out of character. It is one simple gesture, but maybe it could turn into a slippery slope toward obsessive fandom.

I read that Corey Haim's mother is seeking donations to help pay for his funeral expenses. I am usually pretty unaffected by celebrity deaths, but when Corey Haim passed away last week, I felt like a dark cloud was hovering over my childhood. My crush was actually on Corey Feldman, but the two Coreys came as a packaged set back in the 80s and early 90s. Posters of both Coreys lined my walls and I was determined to marry Corey Feldman and one of my classmates was going to marry Corey Haim and we were going to live happily ever after, right next door to one another. We had no doubts that as soon as the Coreys met us, they would realize that all of the beautiful celebrities they dated paled in comparison to the devotion of two Midwestern girls. Unfortunately, we had to find a way to meet them first. That was the biggest hurdle, I think. It never worked out.

It feels really silly, but I may have to make a donation to Corey Haim's memorial fund. It feels silly for a couple of reasons - one of which is that the amount of cash I could afford to donate would not buy much more than a floral arrangement. Also, I have no personal relationship with this person and the idea of giving money to a celebrity just feels... backward.

The request for donations went out on Friday, and since then I have read that they have had some support from the city of Toronto (where the funeral will be held) and a celebrity auction site is rumored to have offered a sizable donation to help pay funeral expenses. Still, something pulls at me to contribute a modest donation to this fund.

I watched the A&E reality TV show The Two Coreys in 2008 (the one reality TV show I actually watched) and I do believe the reports that Haim probably was broke when he died. I hardly recognized him as the fresh-faced kid from The Lost Boys whose photos lined my pre-teen bedroom walls. The show centered on the fractured relationship between Haim and Feldman. They both had conflicting chips on their respective shoulders. Feldman seemed to have his act together a bit better than Haim, although he should never ever ever write and perform another love song for his wife. Under no circumstances should another performance take place like the one I witnessed on that show. It was bad even by reality television standards.

Even still, knowing that my small donation will make little difference, knowing that it may not be as badly needed as originally thought, and knowing that there are many other charitable ways I could part with my money, I think I'm going to make a donation. I never knew him personally, and he never got to marry my friend, but watching his films and obsessing over the Coreys as a kid is a happy memory for me. The subsequent path he took through life toward self-indulgence and self-destruction is sad, and his untimely death is tragic, but my memory of his work and my absurd childhood obsession is a pleasant one. I'm not sure if it's rational, but it makes me feel a little bit better to be one of the many people who let his family and loved ones know that he made a positive impact in our life. Plus, maybe I also feel a little bit of regret. If my friend and I had just tried a little bit harder and been a little more proactive in our plan to marry the Coreys, his life would have been very different. If only he had married a younger, awkward, obsessed, Midwestern fan.

[update: 3/17/10. In case you're wondering, I ended up donating $25 to the Memorial Fund. It's not much, but it's at least one dollar for every Corey poster to ever hang on my walls.]