Winter sports: Visually impaired skier nears Olympic spot
CANMORE, Alberta — Visually impaired cross-country skier Brian McKeever is a step closer to becoming the first winter athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics.
McKeever won an able-bodied 50-kilometere NorAm race Tuesday, a result he needed to be eligible for the Olympic team.
But the number of spots on Canada’s Olympic roster hasn’t been confirmed. It will be up to Canada’s cross-country Canada governing body if McKeever will race the 50K in Whistler in February.
“It’s the best race I could lay down today, and whatever happens, happens,” McKeever said. “That’s all you can ask to have the best race on the day when it matters.”
He won in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 8.5 seconds and was followed by Canadians Brent McMurtry (2:22:20.9) and Kevin Sandau (2:22:40.4).
McKeever has won seven Paralympic medals, including four gold. He has Stargardt’s disease, an inherited condition of macular degeneration that also claimed his father’s eyesight. His vision is less than 10 percent and all of it peripheral.
“The message is, you put your mind to it and you work really hard for it you can do anything,” McKeever said.
Five athletes — all in summer sports — have competed in the Paralympics and Olympics: South African swimmer Natalie du Toit (amputee), American runner Marla Runyan (visually impaired), Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka (born without right hand and forearm), Italian archer Paola Fantato (polio) and New Zealand archer Neroli Susan Fairhall (paraplegic).
“Ever since I was a little kid watching the 1988 Games in Calgary and coming out here to the Canmore Nordic Centre, watching a couple of races, that was pretty neat,” McKeever said. “To have a home games again in Canada, Olympics and Paralympics, it’s just fantastic.”