After the Vancouver Paralympic Games, Part II: Athletes Relax and Take Care of Injuries

By Kathryn Arbour  •  Denver Disability Examiner  •  March 28, 2010 11:15 PM 

In an effort to complete some of the stories that this Examiner followed closely during the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games earlier this month, she contacted several of the athletes a week after Closing Ceremonies. Read what skier Hannah Pennington is doing next in Part I of this two-part series. 

[Team USA wheelchair curling athlete, Jacqui Kapinowski] Jacqui Kapinowski, Team USA wheelchair curling lead, could hardly believe that she was there in Vancouver participating in her first Paralympic Games. “Phenomenal,” she repeated several times when asked to describe the experience. “Everyone was so kind and encouraging.” Kapinowski returned to this theme over and over, noting that the people make these Games, the “everyday people, not just the athletes.” In fact, early in the interview she praised the efforts of P&G, sponsors of the “Thank You, Mom” campaign, designed to bring mothers, and mother-like figures, of all athletes to the Olympics and Paralympics. Kapinowski’s parents were unable to travel because of age and health, but her mother enjoyed and appreciated the gifts, including a significant cash amount, that P&G bestowed upon the athletes’ mothers. She also added that the “goody bags” prepared by P&G for the athletes with every conceivable personal care item possible, meant she did not have to go shopping once while in Vancouver.“They took care of us, too.”

The U.S. wheelchair curling team went into the final rounds tied for first place with Canada, having played every day of the Paralympics. They made it ultimately to the bronze round, losing to Sweden, 5 – 7. Kapinowski is still playing that last round in her head, unable to shake some of the “unfortunate” moments, including a shot gone bad because of ice build up under the stone. In able-bodied curling, sweepers move ahead of the stone, clearing the ice of debris, other build up of residue and otherwise helping guide the stone to its destination “in the house.” The absence of brooms represents the only difference in wheelchair curling. And, this time it made a very big difference. However, ending up fourth in the world at only the second Paralympics showing for this sport is something to feel proud of. And, she does.

Curling became a sensation after its debut at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. Wheelchair curling became a full-medal sport in the 2006 Turino Paralympic Winter Games where Canada took the gold medal. 

An athlete most of her life, Kapinowski became a wheelchair racer about seven years ago at age 40, when her disability, Stiff Person syndrome (SPS), a rare neurological disorder, worsened. Previously, she ran marathons using a walker, and sometimes without, depending on the day. In 2007 during a wheelchair racing event in Utica, NY, Jimmy Joseph (JAM for short) of the U.S. Wheelchair Curling team, introduced Jacqui to Mark DePerno, an occupational therapist and director of the Sitrin STARS (Success Through Adaptive Recreation and Sports) in Utica. From the moment she tried wheelchair curling, she had “this feeling in my gut that it was right for me.” She found the ways to incorporate curling into her life, practicing every day. Four months later she threw her first stone in competition and came home with the bronze. She was on the U.S. Team the following year. She said her teammates are “awe inspiring and a lot of fun.” 

What is next for Jacqui Kapinowski? Surgery. She has a torn tendon in her left arm (she is left-handed) that required constant treatment during the Games so she could continue playing. “I’m not looking forward to it, but I have to do it.” But first, she and her Paralympic and Olympic peers will meet at The White House on April 21. President Obama has invited Team USA to come celebrate with him. “I’m almost as excited about that as I was about making the Team.” 

As Team USA made its way to Vancouver, they came to Denver for processing. Put simply “processing” is a chance for the athletes to get stuff – SWAG, as it is called – from the U. S. Olympic Committee sponsors. SWAG includes tailor-made outfits from designers such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Nike that the athletes wear at Opening and Closing ceremonies. The customization process for athletes with disabilities takes a bit longer, so “processing” gave the Paralympians two days in Denver.