RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - When George Koszucki was offered a three-year position at one of Michelin Tire’s plants in Brazil last year, the opportunity to attend 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro played a part in the Wolfville, Nova Scotia, man’s decision to take the offer.
George and his wife Jacqueline Koszucki jumped at the chance to attend as many Olympic events as possible. By the end of this week, the couple will have attended 42 Olympic and Paralympic events, including some extremely exciting – and bizarre – moments.
The Koszuckis were at the wrestling match where two Mongolian coaches stripped off their clothes to protest the result of the Olympic bronze-medal match.
“The one coach protested and took his shirt off,” says Jacqueline in a Sept. 13 interview. “The other one took his shirt off, took the shoes off and they went flying. And then he took his pants off and he’s standing up there in his underwear. Well everyone in the crowd was laughing, like ‘are you serious?’ It was crazy.”
Jacqueline says its difficult to describe the electricity and excitement of watching the gold medal soccer match from the stands when home side Brazil won the gold medal after a dramatic penalty kick to beat out arch-rival Germany. She said they felt like Brazilians, revelling in the electricity of the match.
“It was a sitting on the edge of your seat sort of game,” she says. “We went all decked out in our Brazilian finery, we even brought yellow and green wigs. Artificial gold medals and our flags. We really got into the spirit of things.
“To be there in that stadium, everybody was just sitting on the edge of their seat, holding their breath. Just to be there. Country pride was really shining through it was really exciting to be there, to be part of that.”
Another highlight of the Annapolis Valley couple’s Olympic experience was seeing Usain Bolt make sports history. The Jamaican sprinter won the 100-metre spring final with a time of 9.81 seconds. – making him the first athlete to win the event at three Olympic Games.
Paralympics The couple have also taken in many Paralympic events, including the opening ceremonies Sept. 7.
A chance meeting outside a Paralympic venue led to another memorable moment: watching fellow Nova Scotian Pamela LeJean compete in shot put next to the LeJean’s parents. The couple met her coach, Ueli Albert, when they chatted other spectators wearing Canadian shirts and mentioned they came from Nova Scotia “Oh, so do I,” Albert replied.
“We asked him where he lived and he lived seven kilometers from our home,” Jacqueline said.
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Albert invited the Koszuckis to meet LeJean and watch her compete.
“She’s an amazing, amazing woman,” says Jacqueline of LeJean, who placed fourth in the final.
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Jacqueline says the entire Paralympics event has been incredibly inspiring for the couple.
“It just goes to show it’s not the physical being that creates the athlete. It’s what’s in the inside: their drive, their determination.”
As an example, she described a moment from the opening ceremonies. . Torchbearer and Paralympic medalist Marcia Malsar slipped and fell, dropping the torch.
“It’s inspiring. She was having great difficulty just walking and then you’re carrying this torch, too, and then you fall,” she said. “But you get back up, and you don’t quit. No matter what your abilities, what you lack physically, it’s got to come from within.” The crowd cheered wildly when the Brazilian Paralympian got back on her feet, picked up her torch and kept going.
“We’ve been given an opportunity of a lifetime we feel,” Jacqueline says. “These athletes have given up, they’ve spent a great part of their lives, its just important to get out there and support, and we’re here, why not?”
Why the Paralympics was worth it
By George Koszucki
Admittedly, Jacqueline and I struggled with the level of participation that we were going to devote to the Paralympics after coming off of the Olympic “high”. However, we snagged a pair of tickets for the opening ceremony for the Paralympics at the last minute for $35 Canadian. Fortunately it was almost sold out, showing good support for the Paralympians.
Watching world-class athletes like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps is one thing, but watching athletes with physical and mental challenges is on a whole different plane. We can all understand and be in awe when athletes gifted with abilities that we can only imagine perform incredible feats, but when athletes that do not even possess a half or a quarter of what we ourselves have (and who would just totally kick our butts), well that really puts their accomplishments and our unrealized potential in perspective.
My three takeaways:
The female dancer who is dancing with a robot, like the ones we have in our tringle shops* [at Michelin] which was very clever scripting, who then reveals that she is dancing on “blades”. Sobering to say the least.
The torch trip around the stage in preparation for the lighting of the Paralympic flame. The lady on the second or third leg was visibly - at a distance of 125 metres from where we were sitting- struggling to walk and carry the torch at the same time. A few meters from the transfer point she fell, then got back up to complete the transfer. What can I say? Nothing!!
In the final leg of the torch carry, a wheelchair athlete is confronted with what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle in order to light the flame with his torch. I, as I am sure many others in the audience, were wondering how he was going to deal with this challenge. Then a ramp “magically” appeared allowing him to negotiate the obstacle by himself. Really drove home how much society needs to do to support these athletes and normal everyday non-athletes, so that they can lead normal and productive lives. They do not need us to push them up the ramp; they just need us to stop putting obstacles in their way.
You cannot watch these people struggle and overcome the challenges without becoming a changed person.
As we left the stadium we could not help but notice that a sizeable percentage of the audience, were missing an arm or a leg or their mobility.
Are we ever glad that we overcame our Olympic “high” and we have tickets to ten events over the next twelve days, culminating with the Closing Ceremonies.
After that, our Olympic experience is complete… or it has just started?
George Koszucki a Nova Scotian working for Michelin in Brazil, wrote this to his colleagues back in Canada after the Paralympic opening ceremonies Sept. 7.
*The English translation is “rod shop”
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