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Canadian cereal, peanut butter and Tim Hortons coffee are what helped make the Paralympic Village feel more like home for Canada's Paralympic athletes and volunteers, including Dr. Gaétan Tardif, Chef de Mission and Toronto Rehab Physiatrist-in-Chief.
Gaétan began volunteering for the Paralympics at the Sydney Games 12 years ago and was immediately hooked. The London Games were no different.
Gaétan initially knew little about the Paralympics, but was interested in getting involved when he saw a call for applicants to be a team doctor and was eventually chosen.
"At the time, I didn't realize sport doctors were rather uncomfortable with athletes who have a disability, and obviously being a physiatrist, this was not an issue for me," he says. This was part of what made him the right fit for the organization. But it's the athletes who keep him coming back.
"Paralympic athletes make themselves available, show a great deal of appreciation to the whole team and volunteers, and they are by far the best ambassadors Canada has ever had," says Gaétan.
"That's a big reason I keep coming back. I just can't get enough of their good attitude!"
As Chef de Mission for Canada Paralympic team, he had a busy three weeks in London conducting hours of media interviews, supporting and cheering on Canadian athletes during competition, and attending operational meetings throughout the Games.
"Building awareness for the Paralympics and accessibility was not officially part of my job description, but I think it's a big part of what I do. And, with media levels higher during these Games than ever before, we reached a lot of Canadians and always made a point to speak about youngsters getting involved and how they can go about it."
But, it wasn't until Kate Middleton sat two rows behind Gaétan in the VIP section (a benefit of being a Chef de Mission) that he got the attention of the paparazzi. "More cameras flashed than I have ever seen before! I was in the perfect position, because I'm tall, to inevitably be in the lower half of every photo taken of Kate Middleton that were tweeted and retweeted endlessly!"
His fondest memory of London 2012, however, was the Boccia bronze medal game. Gaétan recollects, "the day before the bronze medal game, these guys lost a heartbreaker on a miracle last shot by their opponents. Yet, they regrouped and won handily against the Great Britain team. Boccia doesn't get much attention, but it's a fascinating strategy sport that's a bit like curling."
Gaétan wrapped up the Paralympics and arrived back at Toronto Rehab on September 12.
"The Paralympics are so different from my day-to-day life in the hospital or clinic. But the skills I used as the Chef de Mission are about leadership and diplomacy and I've learned that in spades working in hospital administration at Toronto Rehab-UHN."
Upon reflection, Gaétan sums up his experience at the 2012 Paralympic Games: "I feel amazingly proud to have contributed to the growth on the Paralympic movement and played a small part in the international recognition of the Games. The recognition of a person's abilities rather than disabilities can and will make a big difference here in Canada and even more so in other societies that still segregate people based on disability."
For more on Gaétan's experience at the 2012 Paralympics Game,
visit his blog.