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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The I Word Infects the X Games and Mono Skiing

The Winter X Games were held last weekend. As always, my primary interest was to the mono ski competition. Since 2005 the best mono skiers have competed at the X Games. Since its inception, the mono ski race is known to be an exciting, featuring spectacular crashes, huge table top jumps, and speeds that approach 80 MPH. Last year I was amazed that ESPN used the mono ski race as a teaser to keep viewers interested. This was a sure sign that the mono ski race had become a primary feature of the X Games. In the words of my son, the mono skiers are bad asses, a compliment and recognition of the skill and nerve necessary to compete at the highest level. This cool factor amazes me as does the fact the mono skiers race on the same course as Boardercross and Skier X races.

On Sunday I watched great mono ski races marred by the I word--the announcers repeatedly stated the mere fact the mono skiers were able to get to the mountain was "inspiring". Ugh! If there is one word I hate when used to describe a person with a disability it is inspiring. What is inspiring is the race and intense competition. There is nothing inspiring about getting to the mountain to compete, any suggestion to this affect diminishes the ability and world class skill of the athletes involved. If the executives at ESPN really want to grow this event into a premier part of the X Games they need to be fare more careful about the way the announcers describe the race. The mono ski race is incredibly popular and gets more exposure than the Paralympics. This is gratifying to the racers such as Tyler Walker who won his second straight Gold Medal. He stated that "This event is really big for adaptive skiing because it gets a huge amount of exposure. People really seem to enjoy watching the event. It gives us a lot of recognition. It's pretty cool". Cool, indeed! What is fascinating to me is how inclusive the mono ski event is. This is in direct contrast to the Paralympics that exist in a vacuum, at least within the mainstream media. Paralympians have been slow to gain parity with non disabled athletes and coverage is often broadcast weeks later as a special 90 minute broadcast on a slow Sunday afternoon.

What I find gratifying is the X Games have changed the way adaptive sports in the form of the mono ski race are covered. Thanks to ESPN, not its announcers, viewers are exposed to the best mono skiers in the world. The coverage of the event is no different. The winners are interviewed after the race and brief biography is provided. If the word inspiring is to be applied here there is only one way it can be constructive. So instead of getting angry at the use of the word inspiring I thought the race could be inspiring but not for the reason implied by the announcers. Who could be inspired? My first thought was a child who is a novice adaptive skier. Imagine a young boy or girl with a disability that is seeking a role model, a figure to inspire them to be the best. A person like Tyler Walker, a gifted mono skier that appears on television. Mr. Walker is not on a special program but rather included in the X Games with other athletes those with and without a disability. I can readily imagine a young person with a disability being tremendously impressed. I know if I were young I would have been in awe. I had no crippled role models when I was young so maybe I am too critical of the I word. Thus I hope there is some kid in New Hampshire where Walker lives or any other state for that matter who has been inspired. At worst they along with millions of others viewers got to see a few great mono ski races. I just wish my skill level approached those that competed.