Canmore native Brian McKeever received a double whammy of challenges in his quest for a gold medal at the Canadian Paralympics. The cross-country skier is legally blind, and was recently excluded from the roster of starters in the March 7 50-kilometer race. In addition, however, McKeever has been greatly disturbed by the nasty communications that have inundated the mailboxes of his camps.
McKeever's vision is programmed by Stargardt's disease, which is a form of macular degeneration. The condition has deprived him of all but approximately ten percent of his eyesight, and that which is remaining is all peripheral.
McKeever commented that the mail is very upsetting, both to him and his colleagues on the team, noting that his camps had had no say in the starter decision. He qualified for Canada's Olympic team last December, having won a 50-kilometer trial. Had he been able to compete last month in Vancouver, he would have been the first contender to be in both the Winter Olympics as well as the Winter Paralympics.
When McKeever won the trial as well as admission to the team in December, it had been assumed he would actually compete. Tom Holland, who is Cross Country Canada's high-performance director, said that he was quite sure McKeever would get one starting spot. However, he acknowledged, such a decision is left to coaches in any given racing situation, with nothing guaranteed.
Before the March 7 race, the coaches from Canada made the decision to award the starting positions to Ivan Babikov, George Gray and Devon Kershaw, all of Canmore, as well as Alex Harvey, who is from Ste-Ferreolles-Neiges, Quebec. While Kershaw finished the race with a scant 1.5-second distance from the gold medal, The others did not fare as well: Gray took 18th place, Harvey was in 32nd place and Babikov followed in 33rd place. Babikov reported that he repeated numerous negative messages regarding the exclusion of McKeever.
McKeever commented that he does not feel that he was misled by officials at Cross Country Canada. He noted that the situation put him and his teams in an untenable position.