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Old 02-27-2006, 07:21 AM   #1
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The Mayor Of Vancouver

Sullivan embodies indomitable spirit

By Bob Hohler, Globe Staff | February 26, 2006

TURIN -- Sometime between the Felliniesque Clowns and Canadian rocker Avril Lavigne in tonight's closing ceremonies of the Winter Games, Sam Sullivan will spin about the stage in a mechanized wheelchair, trying the best a quadriplegic can to wave the Olympic flag.

He will embody the spirit of the Olympics and its future.

Long before Sullivan became the mayor of Vancouver, the scenic city on Canada's Pacific Coast that will host the next Winter Games in 2010, he was a daredevil skier. He took one risk too many 27 years ago and botched an attempt to ski through a friend's legs. Botched it badly.

With his neck broken and four limbs all but paralyzed, Sullivan, 46, went from 15 months in hospitals and rehab centers into public housing and onto welfare. He languished for seven years, spiraling deeper into self-pity and despondency, he said in an interview, until he became suicidal.

''I had to decide whether or not I wanted to continue living," he said.

As it turned out, Sullivan chose an Olympian way. He dedicated himself to achieving his potential and trying to inspire the able-bodied and disabled alike to do the same.

''I decided I would focus on other people and helping them overcome their difficulties," Sullivan said. ''It was quite a turnaround from focusing on all that I lost."

Without the use of his legs and with only limited use of his arms -- he cannot use his fingers or lift his hands above him -- Sullivan rode his wheelchair to a business degree and a 12-year tenure on Vancouver's City Council. He learned several languages, including Cantonese, and created a number of thriving nonprofits to aid people with disabilities that have spawned chapters across North America.

Along the way, Sullivan received his country's highest civilian honor -- membership in the Order of Canada. And last November he was elected the nation's first quadriplegic mayor.

''I've gone from seven years of intense disappointment and depression," Sullivan said, ''to never thinking about the old Sam again, except in kind of a detached way."

Now, he needs to think about the first Olympiad in Canada since Calgary in the winter of 1988. The nation has hosted only one other Olympiad, the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976.

In Sullivan's next official task, he will accept the flag tonight from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who will slip the 12-foot-tall flagpole into a specially-made receptacle on the left arm of Sullivan's wheelchair. What happens then remains to be seen. Sullivan said he is intent on generating enough movement for the flag to billow.

''I hope I don't decapitate someone," he joked.

Regardless of the outcome, the Winter Games will then belong to Vancouver, fulfilling the city's effort since the 1960s to host an Olympiad. Much of the action will unfold at Whistler Resort, the 55,000-seat BC Place Stadium, and 17,000-seat General Motors Place arena, though the organizing committee is investing an additional $95 million in competition venues.

The 2010 Games already have attracted an additional $1 billion in outside investment in Vancouver, not including $600 million for a new convention center.

''While it's daunting and we feel a sense of awesomeness [in hosting the Games], we're excited about rallying our country to the challenge," said John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver organizing committee.

The Vancouver organizers said they identified two flaws in the Turin Games they hope to eliminate: soft ice and empty seats.

Skaters blamed Turin's soft ice in part for only one athlete having set an Olympic individual record: Korean speedskater Ahn Hyun Soo, who set the 1,000-meter short-track mark of 1 minute, 26.739 seconds.

By 2010, Vancouver organizers said, ''world-record [time] ice" will be installed in the skating venues.

As for the empty seats, Vancouver officials said the Turin committee allocated too many tickets to national Olympic committees, international sports federations, and corporate sponsors that went unused.

''Everything about the Games is not as positive if there are empty seats in the building," said Dave Cobb, the Vancouver committee's senior vice president for revenue, marketing and communications. ''We have identified what the problem is and we have four years to figure out how to solve it."

The Canadians also have committed to creating more buzz for 2010 by improving the success of their athletes. After winning more medals in Turin (24 entering today) than ever before, Canada's winter athletes will benefit from $110 million in funding from the organizing committee and national government.

''It's setting the stage for us to reach a little further and have a perfect atmosphere when the world comes our way," Furlong said.

As for Sullivan, he hopes to be serving his second term as mayor in 2010 (his first term ends in 2008). But he understands his legacy might turn in part on how he prepares Vancouver for the Olympiad.

''My No. 1 focus," Sullivan said, ''is that we use these Games as a catalyst to make our city better in every way.

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Old 02-27-2006, 09:16 AM   #2
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It was one of those very special Olympic many standing ovations happen at a closing ceremonies?

It was also a perfect demonstration that winning is not just about gold medals.

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Old 02-27-2006, 10:08 AM   #3
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What an inspiration.
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Old 02-27-2006, 10:26 AM   #4
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''I had to decide whether or not I wanted to continue living," he said.

As it turned out, Sullivan chose an Olympian way. He dedicated himself to achieving his potential and trying to inspire the able-bodied and disabled alike to do the same.
A great encouragement and inspiration
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