Visually Impaired Skier To Make Olympic History

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CANMORE, Alberta (AP) – Cross-country skier Brian McKeever was selected for Canada’s Olympic team on Friday, making him the first winter sports athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics.

McKeever, who is visually impaired because of Stargardt’s disease, has won seven Paralympic medals, including four gold, with his brother Robin as his guide.

On to Vancouver.

“It shows if you dream big dreams, you can get there no matter what,” said the 30-year-old McKeever. “It’s a message of hope for the Paralympics. In the past, the Paralympics has been seen as a sideshow, not by the athletes but just in terms of the attention that it gets.”

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).

McKeever’s sight was lost to the same disease that claimed his father’s vision. Stargardt’s disease can be inherited and causes macular degeneration. McKeever’s vision functions at less than 10 percent and is only peripheral.

He won a 50-kilometer race last month to meet the Olympic team criteria. When he competes in able-bodied events, he finds another skier of the same ability to follow as a guide.

“Hopefully this shows that Paralympic athletes are capable of great things and they’re training to the same levels and the same kind of hours and effort their able-bodied counterparts are doing,” he said.

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