Hometown Heroes: Celebrating the Special People who Drive our Local Sports Community
By City of Ottawa Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury
No one can prepare for a pandemic, let alone one which requires many of us to stay away from friends and family.
When COVID-19 hit our city in March 2020, many of us shifted to a virtual way of life. For work, gatherings and even family get-togethers, we’ve spent the past two years connecting via screens.
This has been the case for sporting events, especially for family and friends. Cheering on your loved ones has taken a whole new look.
This has never been more true or visible than with the Olympics and Paralympics. For the most part, the stands have remained empty. Our long-standing cheering section remains here, in Canada, while our team travels without their biggest fans.
That is where some good can come out of the darkness of a pandemic.
Karolina Wisniewska, a three-time Paralympian in the sport of para alpine skiing and a Canadian Paralympic Hall of Famer, has an extraordinary role in this Paralympics. As Assistant Chef De Mission of Beijing 2022 Canadian Paralympic Team, she will be the conduit between the family and friends and the athletes.
“It is a virtual mentor role,” Wisniewska said, explaining that as she had performed the mentor role once before in the 2006 Paralympics, she came at the job with an understanding – but this time, her feet remained firmly on the ground here in Canada.
A role designed solely because of the pandemic, Wisniewska makes herself available to support the families of athletes in whatever role they need – even if it is to discuss with them what can be expected during a competition or after.
It is also is about elevating Canadian spirits.
“It is to unite and make the games feel less isolating, help make the athletes feel less alone, and help families feel connected,” said Wisniewska, who lived in Ottawa for a decade before recently moving to Montreal to become the Canadian Olympic Committee’s National Manager of Game Plan (which helps athletes transition to post-athletic careers).
“As an athlete, 100 percent (going to the Games) is exciting. You worked your whole life to be there. But it is hard because you are alone,” added the eight-time Paralympic medallist. “And maybe this is how your journey is supposed to be – alone or surrounded by family; you still approach it any way you normally would.”
Wisniewska said that she would have loved to go to Beijing but feels fortunate to have the experience to take on this virtual role and offer up whatever resources and aid are needed.
“I wish I could be there, but I am happy to do what I can from here.”