Getting Ready for the 2008 Paralympic Games

The Summer of 2008 was one of the most incredible times of my live. I was invited to be a coach of the US Paralympic Swimming Team, and between August 20 and September 18, I traveled to Colorado Springs, Okinawa, Japan, and Beijing, China with the US swimmers. These pages chronicle that summer and shares with pictures and a few words the highlights.

The webpages connected to my summer of 2008 are:

Prepping for the Paralympics at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan

Opening Ceremonies in Beijing

Justin Zook's racing

Anna Eames' racing

Deb Gruen's racing

Closing Ceremonies

Some of the sites of Beijing

Pictures taken by my daughters

I was placed on the National Team Staff in February, 2007 after I passed the test on my knowledge of the Paralympic Program, both at a national and international level. My first team trip was to Manchester, England in May, 2007. I was part of a three coach staff watching over 10 swimmers who participated in the 2007 World Cup. Later that summer, I traveled with the team to Vancouver, Canada for the 2007 Summer Can/Am Meet. While I was hopeful of a role with the Paralympic Team in Beijing, I was given the position of back-up coach in April, and I settled into my job of preparing two swimmers for the games. Much to my total surprise, I received a phone call during my second hour prep period in the middle of May. I had been moved up to a position as Assistant Coach. I was heading to China!

This collection of pages takes you through the late summer of 2008 when a dream that I have had as a coach was realized ... 4 years after I "retired" from professional coaching. With the announcement that I was officially a coach of the US Paralympic Team, my summer plans were drastically changed. I had already booked a flight to Beijing for my wife and I. We were going to relive the Athens experience and celebrate our 14 anniversary in China. Now, I was going to China with the team, and we had to decide what to do as a family with the tickets. The decision was quickly made ... Cathy would bring our daughters to China, and the three of them would sit in the stands and cheer on the swimmers who I would be coaching on the deck.

That summer, I re-entered the coaching world personally employed by Anna Eames and Justin Zook. Since we needed a team name (two swimmers is not much of a team), they decided on the name "Team EZ" and we adopted the motto "Easy Does It," written in Chinese characters on the back. Anna and Justin trained at the LifeTime Fitness Center in Plymouth and downtown at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. While counting down the days until Beijing, we had a team meeting over a weekend in mid-June at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. In mid-July we went out to Victoria Island, British Columbia for the 2008 Summer Can/Am meet. More training, and soon it was late July. A young woman named Deb Gruen moved in with our family. Deb is a junior at Yale University. She was born with Spina bifida which severely limited the use of her legs. She felt it would be good to train with an official team coach before leaving her home team in mid-August. When August came, Michael Prout Jr. came to live with us as well. He is a good friend of Justin and a senior at the University of Massachuttes. He had swum here in August, 2004 before Athens, and thought it would be good to repeat the program four years later. Team EZ had grown from 2 all the way to 4!

Deb went back home to New Haven to pack her bags because she was going to stay in Beijing after the Paralympic Games and study at Peking University. On Augist 20, at 4:30 in the morning of my 14th wedding anniversary, Anna, Justin, Mike, and I (below) got on the plane and headed to Colorado Springs for team processing. During our three day stay at the Olympic Training Center, we practiced at the pool, held team meetings, and got outfitted with the appropriate clothes for Opening and Closing Ceremonies, meet days, and more.

On the 24th of August, we boarded a charter DC-10 for the Kadena Air Base on Okinawa Island, Japan. The US Paralympic Swimming and Track Teams had the entire plane to ourselves ... 330 seats for 110 people. As has been Justin and Mike's custom for team trips, goofy t-shirts were worn for the flight (above). What felt like first-class service for everyone made the trip truly incredible, and it was all done because the US Department of Defense wanted to support the US Paralympic Teams in general and disabled veterans who were part of the teams in particular. When we arrived at the Kadena Air Base (below right and left), every swimmer had a personal escort from the military, our own hotel suite (full kitchen, living room, and bedroom), and incredible meals at the Officers Club. Buffet breakfast and lunch had everything imaginable, and the food was so plentious that I typically skipped dinner.

While on the Kadena AFB, we trained nearby at the Camp Foster Marine Base pool (seen below). With temperatures in the mid to upper 80s and humidity at least that high, the pool and athletes were cooled by water sprayed from water cannons. The time in Kadena prepared us for the warm weather expected in Beijing, the time differential (13 hours ahead of Minnesota), and gave the team time to bond together and focus on our team and individual goals.

As I mentioned earlier, various Tech Sergants drove the vehicles that transported us from the Kadena AFB to the Camp Foster pool and back. Pictured here is Sgt. Rob Walsh, a Minnesota native now living on the base with his wife. He has such a good time learning about the cameras that Doc Manning and I were using that he bought a new Canon 30D while we were at the base and took as many pictures as I did. The two pictures below show me taking a picture of Doc, taking a picture of me. This was something we did all too often because we enjoyed acting like little kids. Below the camera picture is a poster I found of a local bike race ... similar to the "Tour de Tonka" ride that I did in Minnesota.

 

As I mentioned earlier, various Tech Sergants drove the vehicles that transported us from the Kadena AFB to the Camp Foster pool and back. Pictured here is Sgt. Rob Walsh, a Minnesota native now living on the base with his wife. He has such a good time learning about the cameras that Doc Manning and I were using that he bought a new Canon 30D while we were at the base and took as many pictures as I did.

The top picture is mine, but the bottom two are from the Kadena AFB website. The photo below and right was what I thought would be the ultimate send-off ... an F-15 eacort of our charter flight from Kadena to Beijing. However, it was still cool to see one land as we were on the tarmack.

One of the exciting parts of being on an Air Force Base was watching planes take off, practice flying in formation, and land ... only to do this all over again. The Kadena AFB is a training base where pilots learn how to fly the planes. It is a training site for the F-15 Eagles, E-3 AWACS, and KC-135 Stratotankers. The US Olympic Committee sent six mountain bikes with the team so we could get around the base on short errands. Several times, while I was riding one of these bikes, I found myself alongside the runway as the F-15s and E-3 AWACs planes were practicing take-offs and landings. I raised my fist in the air on one occasion, like Tom Cruise in "Top Gun," before I reminded myself that I was riding a bicycle, was wearing biking shorts, and was twice as old as Tom Cruise. I returned to simple riding and enjoying the planes and the noise.

On September 1, it was time to look at the Fu Manchu mustache and cut the stray fragments. Time to get ready to say good bye to Kadena and get ready to say hello to Beijing.

After our nine day stay on the Kadena AFB, we once again boarded our charter flight. It was time for me to say good bye to Colonel Mark Boundy, the Pentagon officer who oversaw our time in Okinawa and earned a great deal of my respect and gratitude. As we taxied to the runway, I looked out my window and was thrilled to see this send-off from the men and women who serve my country and who served us while we were preparing for the Paralympic Games. A short while later, a pair of F-15s landed in front of our plane. The pictures are blurred by the airplane window through which I took these pictures, but it did not diminish the thrill at all.

 

 

We were really excited to finally be getting to our final destination. As has been Justin and Mike's custom for team trips, goofy t-shirts were worn for the flight. We arrived in Beijing on the afternoon of September 2 and headed to the Cube early in the evening of that day. Below is a picture of The Bird's Nest, where 91,000 people can sit and watch Track and Field events, as well as Opening and Closing Ceremonies. It was directly across the street from The Cube (seen in the picture below the Bird's Nest). Okay ... these two pictures were taken a few days after we arrived because the skies were pretty polluted with various things when we arrived on the 2nd, but the air did clear up by September 6.

The two pictures, above and below are close-ups of the material that makes the wall of The Cube. It is literally like a giant box of bubble wrap. The material is thick plastic wrap that is soft to the touch. The white metal lattice network has a series of lights on the inside that can make the interior of each section whatever color the designers want. In the bottom picture, taken from the inside at night, the color is blue, but on other nights, the colors were purple, red, yellow, a rainbow, and even the words Beijing 2008 were seen moving slowly across The Cube.

From here, it is time to go to Opening Ceremonies.