Arts & Entertainment

Parkite Paralympian Waddell leads Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony

TOKYO, Japan. — At 5:00 am Park City time, Park City resident of at least 25 years Chris Waddell was live on NBCSN as a co-commentator for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games.

Waddell, a seven-time Paralympian in both Summer and Winter Games competed in alpine ski racing and wheelchair track and field winning 12 Paralympic medals before he became an author, a public speaker, and a summiter of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Chris Waddell.
Chris Waddell. Photo courtesy of One Revolution

Injured in a ski racing crash while representing Vermont’s Middlebury College, the paraplegic can be seen skiing in his monoski at Deer Valley Resort or Park City Mountain. He raced for Park City’s National Ability Center elite ski team. Waddell volunteers on many Boards and advisory committees to make Utah more inclusive and adaptive for not only athletes but Utahns with disabilities. He married the executive director of the Virgin Atlantic Foundation he and his wife traveling and making the world a better place.

Park City resident Bonita Hutchison is the former Executive Director of Waddell’s foundation One Revolution. Hutchison said, “Chris works tirelessly to change the perception of individuals with disabilities. His impact is felt around the globe – international marathons, schools programs, podcasts, films, you name it, he does it. He is an extraordinary human, living his message ‘It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.’ In everything he does. Park City is lucky to have him as one of our own. He makes our community better just by being who he is at his core.” 

A little rain in the nighttime stadium didn’t dampen the processions from moving forward nor the excitement therein.

All the nations entered into the National Stadium one by one with their respective flag bearers leading the way. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) 240-strong Team USA delegation was towards the end, not before countries like Lesotho which sent but one athlete to these Games to proudly represent its people. Afghanistan was slated to send its first female team of Paralympians but this week’s conflict in country ended that dream.

Then the athletes who were socially distanced from the other countries’ groupings of athletes, were treated with a show. Theatrics abounded from dancers, musicians via costumes, light shows and a choreographed storyline highlighting the struggles and triumphs of life. Masks were worn by athletes and performers and presenters. We Have Wings was the theme of the Opening Ceremony. Low-tech and high-tech tools told a story of perseverance. More disabilities than many people realize exist, were present on the world’s stage as the Paralympics are, as Waddell pointed out, “The third-largest sporting event in the world behind the Olympic Games and the Soccer World Cup.”

He said, “The Opening Ceremony is a time that the athletes can be free of nerves that they may otherwise have for the competition. They get to just enjoy their time before they need to put forth their best effort on the field of play.”

Dignitaries, including Japan’s emperor, spoke and introduced a new worldwide ad campaign of We The 15 bringing awareness to the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities, 15% of all humanity. They also took the oath to keep the Games in fair play. Then the Emperor declared the Games open.

When the next portion of the Opening Ceremony was upon the global television viewers, as there were no spectators in the stadium, Waddell knew the feeling well of carrying the torch. In the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic Opening Ceremony on the campus of the U of U in Rice-Eccles Stadium, he was one of the chosen few. He got to be center stage, light his torch from another before turning to go light the torch of another when Eric Whyeremayer, a blind American athlete who had recently climbed Mt. Everest, and his guide dog ascended the stairs to light the cauldron.

The names of those chosen few are, at every Paralympics, kept so secret that even as the small vehicle drove from Park City to Salt Lake City with Waddell in it, the nervous chatter revolved around who might possibly be the few folks lucky enough to light the final few torches. He simply giggled along, speculated out loud and nodded to some suggestions. He, all along knew it was to be him, but keeping in the tradition of the Games, didn’t say a peep to his closest friends and colleagues. They learned along with the rest of the world that he was in the middle of the action, right where he belonged.

Essential workers in the health and medicine fields carried the Paralympic flag into the stadium being thanked for their diligence throughout the pandemic, Japan is experiencing high COVID case counts. On the white flag is the colorful Agitos, the symbol of the International Paralympic Committee is a three-sided symbol representing mind, body, and spirit. As such three Japanese athletes had the honor of lighting the Olympic/Paralympic cauldron one man in his electric wheelchair and two women in their wheelchairs from the sorts of boccia, powerlifting, and wheelchair tennis.

 Waddell will be commentating for the NBC networks for track and field events.


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