Posts Tagged ‘Team USA’

March 15, 2010: Vancouver

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Last night the Presidential Delegation to the Paralympics gathered for a closing dinner. Several of us spoke and I told the story about how the German poet Goethe traveled to the Vatican. He was led into the Sistine Chapel, where he saw Michelangelo’s ceiling and said: “Now I understand what man is capable of achieving.” Having spent the last four days at the Paralympics, I have a much better understanding of what men and women are capable of achieving.

I saw blind men and women skiing. I saw people missing limbs playing hockey. I saw people in wheel chairs curling. I saw a German biathlete with no arms shoot his rifle – flawlessly – by pulling a string connected to the trigger with his teeth.

I had an opportunity to talk with many of the athletes and came to understand that it was not what they could do despite their disability. It was what they could just plain do. Their ability to adapt was inspiring. It sounds trite. But watching them, and meeting them, really does renew one’s faith in humanity. You should all watch as much of the Paralympics as you can. I promise you will be glad you did. And you will never again say you can’t do something.

Team U.S.A. Sledge Hockey member

Team U.S.A. Sledge Hockey member

It was also an honor to be part of the Presidential Delegation to the Paralympics which was led by General Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Among the General’s postings was a stint from 1999 to 2003 as the Chief of Staff of the Army. The U.S. Paralympics team has several members who are veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were particularly excited to get a chance to visit with the General and his wife Patty.

The U.S. Delegation and Rick Hansen

The U.S. Delegation and Rick Hansen

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson came to see what a “sustainable” Olympics/Paralympics looks like. In addition to a carbon neutral commitment, the Vancouver Olympics Committee and its city, provincial and federal partners created some great environmentally friendly facilities. At the Vancouver Athletes’ Village, Administrator Jackson posed for pictures at an environmentally friendly solar powered trash can that automatically compacts trash so it needs to be emptied less often.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson

Also in our delegation was Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to President Obama for Disability Policy. Kareem, who is himself visually impaired, coordinates the Administration’s efforts to ensure equal opportunity for Americans with disabilities.

In addition to government officials, our delegation included four former Paralympians and prominent members of the disabled community.

Jim Martinson lost both his legs in Vietnam – and he’s the craziest wheelchair racer you will ever meet. He founded one of the first racing chair manufacturing companies in the U.S. In addition to winning races, he has inspired others to excel. At the Athletes’ Village in Vancouver we were joined on our tour by Rick Hansen, the legendary Canadian athlete and philanthropist. Jim and Rick had competed in many races together and are old friends. After giving Jim a big hug, Rick turned to everyone and proudly said “That’s my mentor.”
The U.S. Delegation
Michael May is visually impaired but you never get any hint from looking at his resume. After numerous successful careers, including establishing several hi-tech companies, he launched the Sendero Group, which developed the first accessible GPS for the blind. Mike likes to ski with his kids. They lead the way but he says they got tired of giving him directions, so they started singing instead, usually Jingle Bells, and Mike just follows their voices down the mountain.
Bonnie St. John is an incredible athlete and motivator. She was the first African-American to win a medal, Olympic or Paralympic, in ski racing. She did it without her right leg. She took home a silver and two bronze medals at the Innsbruck Paralympics in 1984. Since then she has been inspiring others through her books and personal appearances.

Melissa Stockwell was the first female amputee from Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Iraqi War Veteran to qualify for the Paralympics. She competed in the Beijing Paralympics in swimming. Now she’s training for a triathlon.

While we were there we did some world-class eating. Particularly at the athletes’ dining rooms. You can do some damage at a free McDonalds – to say nothing of seafood, Italian, sushi, and pretty much anything else you can think of. I think a few of us broke the Olympic calorie-consumption records. Winter and Summer. The stuff Olympic legends are made of.
As we were leaving, Bonnie St. John said being a part of the Presidential delegation was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She was right. And for me I had that once-in-a-lifetime experience three times in the last month. I am very lucky.

February 17, 2010: Whistler

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I keep thinking it can’t get much better. I think today may prove it.

Julie and I were invited by Sen. Nancy Greene Raine – Olympic Champion, Canadian Female Athlete of the 20th Century, and one of the four people selected to light the Olympic cauldron – to watch the women’s downhill.  That on its own would have been enough.  But to join her in watching Lindsey Vonn win the gold and Julia Mancuso win the silver in a total thriller was something I will not soon forget. Then we went down to the finish to congratulate Lindsey and Julia as they walked off the mountain!!

With BC Senator and Olympic legend Nancy Greene Raine and US Ski Team winners Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso

With BC Senator and Olympic legend Nancy Greene Raine and US Ski Team winners Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso

Afterwards we met up with Sen. Mike Duffy and went up the Mountain and across on the Peak-to-Peak gondola. The views were inspiring.

We got home in time to go to the Medal Ceremony. In addition to the women’s downhill winners we saw Maelle Ricker get her gold. When they raised the Canadian flag and played O Canada the crowd went wild.

All in all about as good as it gets.


February 11, 2010: Vancouver

Friday, February 12th, 2010

We got to Vancouver this morning and the headline is the Olympic spirit is infectious!

We went to a reception given by Washington State and British Columbia. It was an example of what I always talk about- the closeness of the relationship between our two countries. And it showed what the Olympics are all about. Governor Christine Gregoire told the story about how, on the previous day, she and Gordon Campbell, the Premier of BC, had stood at the Peace Arch between White Rock, BC, and Blaine, WA, waiving their respective flags as the torch crossed for a few moments between Canada and the United States. No division. Just celebration.

We went to a reception given by Premier Ed Stelmach of Alberta where we had a chance to talk with the Chairman of VANOC, Rusty Goepel. He told me he has been involved with the effort to bring the games to Vancouver for 12 years. Needless to say, he was a little excited that he had only one more day to wait. We also went to a dinner for a group of US and Canadian business leaders where I got a chance to catch up with Canadian Minister of State for Sport – and my friend from my trip to Afghanistan – Gary Lunn. He will be a busy guy for the next two weeks.

But the highlight of the day was our visit to the Olympic Village to see the athletes. We met with the co-Mayors of the village: Tricia Smith, the 7- time world- champion rower, Olympic silver medalist, and Vice-President of the Canadian Olympic Committee; and Rick Hansen, Canada’s Man-in-Motion, Paralympic medalist, and the person whose around-the- world journey in a wheelchair highlighted the potential of people with disabilities. Their enthusiasm set the tone for everything else.

Julie Jacobson waves a flag with Olympics mascot Quatchi

Julie Jacobson waves a flag with Olympics mascot Quatchi

The athletes are just about all moved in and each country’s team decks out their balconies and windows with flags. Canada’s – not surprisingly – have the most.

We then went to the raising of the flags of the United States and the Ukraine (they do them two at a time). When it was our turn and they played the Star Spangled Banner it made me very proud to be there and to be a part of all this.

Raising the US flag at the Vancouver Olympics

Raising the US flag at the Vancouver Olympics

After the flag ceremony we met with several of the athletes. I’m a big fan of the US women’s curling team. I plan on following their every move at the games.

Ambassador Jacobson with the U.S. Women's Curling Team

Ambassador Jacobson with the U.S. Women\’s Curling Team

Tomorrow the Vice President arrives for the Opening Ceremonies!

February 2, 2010: Ottawa / Olympic Delegations

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

It’s official. Vice President Joe Biden will head the U.S. Delegation to the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics. I have known the Vice President for a long time and I can tell you — he loves sports. He was a great football and baseball player when he was younger. He is an outstanding golfer these days. The Vice President will be coming with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

Also in the delegation is Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama. I have known Valerie since the days 30 years ago when we were both associates at my former law firm in Chicago.

The Opening Ceremonies Delegation will have its share of U.S. stars from past Winter Olympics. Peggy Fleming, the 1968 gold medal figure skater, will join us along with Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 US gold medal hockey team that beat the Soviets in the famous Miracle on Ice game, and Vonetta Flowers, the 2002 gold medalist in women’s bobsledding and the first black athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will head the delegation to the Closing Ceremonies. She will be joined by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius as well as UN Ambassador Susan Rice (whose husband is from British Columbia). The Closing Ceremonies Delegation will also include Peter Axelson, an Air Force veteran and World Champion Mono Skier; Bonnie Blair, who has 6 Olympic medals including 5 golds; Manny Guerra, the 2002 Paralympics gold medalist in Sledge Hockey; and Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 gold medalist in Figure Skating.

The Delegation to the Paralympics Opening Ceremony will be headed by the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, Gen. Eric Shinseki. That delegation will also include Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; my friend and former White House colleague, Kareem Dale, the Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy; Jim Martinson, a Vietnam Veteran and 1992 Paralympic gold medalist in Downhill Skiing; Mike May the 1984 Paralympic bronze medalist in Alpine Skiing; Bonnie St. John the 1984 Paralympic medalist in Slalom and Giant Slalom; and Melissa Stockwell, Iraq War veteran and 2008 Summer Paralympic athlete.

I have to say it’s really personally important to me to attend these Olympics. Not just to support Team USA and cheer on our athletes but to share in this moment with Canadians. To celebrate the Canadian effort and enthusiasm that went into planning and executing the Games and to have fun together. Our countries are linked in so many ways and the Olympics only serves to remind me how close we truly are. I imagine I’ll learn a thing or two from my Canadian friends about winter sports too!

I am excited to be a part of all three delegations. Julie and I are getting Olympic fever. We’re going over the schedule of events. Making our packing lists. Ten more days until the Opening Ceremonies!