The disappointment that I wouldn't get to work throughout the night for the next week crushed me. I tried to fight it and tried to accept my role, but this is what I want. The night before the Paralympic opening ceremony I slept about two hours because I was studying every last bit that I could find. I wanted to represent the Paralympics in a way that gave the audience the depth to understand the individuals and their pursuit of perfection -- the joy and trepidation of confronting your fear -- the chance to establish yourself, your sport, and a chance to call to the world to come and see -- to not avert their eyes, but to see a celebration of all that is great about the human condition. We have an amazing ability to persevere, to adapt and to dream, but sometimes we need someone else to jumpstart those dreams, someone to allow us to believe that our dreams are something more than idle thoughts. The Paralympics are just that, and I wanted to convey it.
The opening ceremony show seemed to go at a hundred miles an hour as I tried to weave my facts and observations into the fabric and script of the established show. I worked with Steve Schlanger, a professional in the television world. He connected the show from beginning to end, in and out of commercial break and I scrambled to step in when he stopped careful not to fill the Russian creators' show with chatter, and cognizant of the producer talking in my ear from the control room. A pile of paper mounted on the floor next to me, my discarded notes for the completed sections of the show, as I sought the rhythm, always feeling like I was a beat behind or a beat ahead. Then it was time to scurry from the sound room to the studio to bookend the show with a couple of comments and stories. In our dark suits, we revealed ourselves to the camera. The show was two and half hours long and it had gone by in a moment.
We emerged from the studio. The producers emerged from the control room. They said great job and I wondered if it was great enough to do it again because I wanted more. One of the producers told me that Sarah Will, who was doing the skiing commentary, was sick. Would I do the commentary for the Downhill that night? Yes, definitely. I returned to my hotel armed with start lists and bios. I took them to bed with me. I read and underlined and napped for a couple of hours without ever drifting under the surface of sleep.
At dinner in the hotel I met Todd Harris, who would be my guide for the evening. Like Steve he was the professional play-by-play guy. He would provide the structure of the show and hopefully I could riff a bit. The van dropped us back at the studios a bit before 10:30p.m. After meetings, prep and a triple espresso the show started at 1a.m. Barring commercials, we went straight until five often vamping because there were so many horrific crashes and subsequent course holds. By 6:30a.m, with the day's sun lighting the sky from black to blue, I was in New York City with my wife. The excitement and adrenaline ebbed. I felt cut off from the world of telling the story of the Paralympics because I wouldn't be called on again until the Closing Ceremony.
As an athlete my pursuit was richer because it wasn't just about beating the guy next to me. My passion was also about crafting a story that attracted people to watch, to be surprised and to change their view of disability. When I retired from competitive sport I felt jilted by my passion. Passion prompted me to push a little harder, to wake a little earlier, to fly in the face of fear a little more, and to learn a little more about myself, but when I stopped no one asked me for my story anymore, so I decided that I wanted to be free of it. If it wasn't going to look out for me, then I didn't want it.
I didn't want to love that deeply and get jilted, but then I decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro to regain the voice that I had lost when I stopped competing, yet gaining and believing in my voice remains a battle. This past weekend, my wife told me that each time I didn't believe in myself she would punch me, an apostasy for a woman, who won't kill a mosquito because they are living creatures too. I assume that she won't punch me in the face, but I'm not quite sure. Passion is a gigantic ball of wax that captures and rolls over everything in its sight. In that sense it's both good and bad. Passion made me disappointed that I wouldn't get to work through the night every night during NBC's coverage of the Paralympics. I know that I want to tell the story and I need to keep finding ways to do that. When I lose my faith I'm sure I'll get a punch on the arm, and that's a good thing too.