TOKYO – I am pumped and honoured to be working with a group of 66 motivated and driven athletes (plus staff) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. We’ve already dropped into Japan and are training at the Yokota AirForce Base.
The 10 hour, 5,125 mile (8,247 km) flight across the pacific had me reflecting, as 10 hour flights will.
These will be my fifth Paralympic Games. Second for Team USA. Each games has provided me with experiential learning, hands-on knowledge and usually a foundational insight which has helped shape my coaching career.
Here are a few of the thoughts I had.
Athens – Working for CBC Canada with Rob Snoek and coaching athlete Jessica Matassa, I was grounded in pride and connection back home. Witnessing her bronze medal performance had me speechless and bolstered my confidence in the planning and preparation we had put into it. Having seen the work ethic of fellow Windsor Lancers Stuart McGregor and then seeing him medal was massively motivating and solidified my belief in doing the work needed to succeed. A realization of the scope and scale of the games and potential for global impact of the movement filled me with hope and a thirst for knowledge. Not just to become a better coach, but to elevate my potential for impact. The great friends I made at these games and throughout the following quadrennial have lasted me a life-time. Too many peeps to mention you all here, but you know who you are!
Beijing – a one world philosophy of the games, we knew that when the streets were repainted and many of the biggest landmarks were adorned with the Agitos that the games had arrived in grand global fashion. An event group coach with Athletics Canada my eyes were opened to the technical, behind the scenes mechanism to ensure the sport is contested fairly and by the rules. An emotional roller coaster, we, as coaches were set on managing athlete stress and mitigating stressful situations that could inhibit performance. I learned of the importance of having a quality team behind the team and the true energy expenditure it takes to be a supporting staff. Seeing Megan Muscat, Leah Robinson and Stefanie Reid Lakatos compete at their first games with confidence and vigor was supremely motivat-ing. The journey between Athens and Beijing for Jessica Matassa was as rugged as the Great Wall and seeing her on the start line was nearly as emotional as her medal winning performance in Athens. Meeting Teresa Skinner while on this journey was also a bonus. To be able to meet someone as aligned in passion for the success of others is a rarity and I am fortunate to share in it.
London – this one was for the athletes. A well educated and enamored public elevated the competitors to super star status. Watching the career arc of Virginia Ellen, Brian-McLachlan see her reach the podium gave me hope for a truly playground to podium approach in athlete development. As the Athletics Canada technical manager I bore witness to the positive impact of decisive and talented leadership that Laurier Primeau brought to the table as he em-powered a driven group of passionate staff seeking to provide the best experience for the athletes they were there to serve.
Rio -what a beautiful location! These were the peoples games. Affordability of tickets to the Paralympic Games vs the expensive Olympic Games saw more locals attending, they were coming out in droves… well, once they heard about it. Week one was a bit sparse in attendance but week two got better every day. These games, for me, symbolized a lost opportunity where the organizers didn’t fully embrace the potential of the games. The sport loving Carioca genuinely embraced the competitive vigor of the athletes with respect and appreciation. As the assistant team leader of the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field team of 77 athletes, nearing 100 including staff, my focus was on technical management and liaising with technical officials. The professionalized staff lead by Cathy Sellers and organized by Tina Kauffman-Cain operated on a whole other level of coordination and logistics. Never a dull moment with this crew. Including seeing the rapid rise of Rachael Morrison to throw a world record and win gold in the discus, what an effort!
Tokyo – I’ve had a curiosity for Japanese culture and Japan as a nation since we did a school unit on Japan in Mr. Harrison’s sixth grade class at Howick Central Public School. Mt. Fuji, cherry blossoms, samurai, sushi and more recently the philosophy of Kaizen. These will be a games like no other. Distancing, daily covid tests, no spectators. Athletes will be tested like never before. Unfortunately for the Paralympic Athletes, this alone is their greatest stage, while very few get the thrill of competing in front of many in the stands like in the NCAA, NFL or NBA. In a sense, these games will be about healing and gathering together as a community of collective good once again. Reinvigorating a global movement, a resurgence of activity and momentum. My role for US Paralympic Track and Field in Tokyo has me as an assistant coach across all event groups with a supporting role in track and field technical operations. A generalist with an expertise in all areas of the event, I am ready to serve. Yet again seeing newcomers Jaleen Roberts and Hannah Dederick prepare for their first games experience, the excitement, nervous energy and drive to be tackling their big audacious goals and taking on the world is just as motivating as it was in 2004. Having now coached and delivered clinics on six continents, in countless locations around the globe, a quick scroll through the rankings list or International Paralympic Committee’s social feed reminds me of how fortunate I have been working within the Paralympic movement and the global impact I have had. From handing my Masters Thesis to IPC President Sir Phillip Craven in 2006, to carrying the torch at the Toronto ParaPan Am Games, writing resources and manuals at all levels of the system, educating coaches and having been selected to coach for two separate great nations, the memories are endless and the friendships I have made throughout it all have been most special to me. Who knows what the next five games will look like and what memories Tokyo will bring. All I can say is that it sure has been fun and I will keep doing what is necessary for athletes and their coaches as long as I can.
David Greig is a Howick Township native. He is currently an assistant coach with the United States Paralympic Track and Field Team.