Qualifying for the Olympics is no small task. The vast majority of us can only dream of making it to such a high level of competition. One Canadian athlete set to compete at the Vancouver games this year has shown the world to never give up on your dreams.
Brian McKeever, a 30-year-old from Canmore, has competed on the world stage as a para-lympian for years. The legally blind cross country skier, with his brother Robin acting as guide, has dominated the para-nordic circuit for several years.. This year however, McKeever has done what no Canadian has done before, he’s qualified for both the Para-lympics and the Olympics.
At the age of 19, McKeever was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease — which causes rapid macular degeneration — leaving him legally blind only two years later. The disease causes a degeneration of central vision, leaving limited peripheral vision, which McKeever describes as “Seeing the donut, but not the Timbit.”
At the time of diagnosis, he was a member of the Junior National Nordic ski team, and his competitive drive survived the loss of his vision. For someone to overcome such an enormous hurdle and continue to compete in the sport that they love is truly incredible.
Brian continued to train with high-level athletes, and with his brother acting as a guide; he cleaned up at the 2002 and 2006 Para-lympic games, winning four gold medals.
This year however, Brian put a hold on most of the Para-lympic world cup races and put his focus instead on gaining a spot on the Olympic team instead. Securing his position by winning the NO-RAM Cup 50km race in Canmore this past December.
McKeever has come back strong after breaking his shoulder last year, when he missed a corner and went off the trail at the Canadian Championships last year. While he maintains some peripheral vision, and can see shadows, white out conditions take away what little vision he has left.
During the Paralympics, Brian’s brother —9 time national champion, and member of the 1998 Olympic team — Robin McKeever, acts as a guide for the blind skier, but when he competes in the Vancouver games, he’ll be on his own.
Brian will also be competing in the Para-lympics this year with intentions of skiing in all 3 nordic ski events (5k, 10k and 20k) as well as two biathlon events (7.5k and 12.5k)
Had I managed to get an interview with McKeever before the games started, this would have been published in The Gauntlet. The Media guy from the Olympic team didn’t get back to me, which is a shame, as McKeever is a personal hero of mine, and I would have loved the chance to do an interview.