PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Coexistence. It’s a word – and a philosophy – that echoes through the mountains of PyeongChang, South Korea, through the Olympic Winter Games and now into the Paralympic Winter Games. And as the Opening Ceremony brought the Paralympics to life, coexistence was the name of the game.
Coexistence between traditional Korean culture and its more modern iterations. Coexistence between South Korea and its northern counterpart, though marching as separate delegations, North Korea making its first appearance at a Paralympic Winter Games and receiving a warm welcome from the crowd. And coexistence of those who are able-bodied and those who are not; the ceremony’s theme, “Passion Moves Us,” explains that passion creates the world of coexistence where there is no distinction of people by impairment.
Disabled performers were represented throughout, as dancers in wheelchairs glittered with lights on their wheels and a visually impaired performer starred in a segment depicting the imaginations from which the dreams of Paralympians begin.
On a bitingly cold night – though devoid of the snow that had fallen for much of the day prior – flag bearer Mike Schultz, a snowboarder making his Paralympic debut, led Team USA’s 74-athlete delegation into the stadium. They wore heated jackets for protection from the elements and made quite the statement as one of the largest delegations present. As the Parade of Nations followed the South Korean alphabet, the U.S. was one of the first few of the 49 nations to march.
This iteration of the Paralympic Games is a significant one, marking 70 years since the Paralympic movement began with the first Games in Stoke Mandeville, England. The ceremony included a montage looking back at the evolution of the Paralympic Games while keeping an eye trained on the future. International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons, presiding over his first Paralympic Games, spoke of dreams and the power of sport. “Paralympic sport not only changes lives,” he says, “it changes the world.”
The idea of coexistence resurfaced as the Paralympic flame entered the stadium carried by two athletes, one from South Korea and one from North Korea. The cauldron, beneath a sky full of fireworks, was lit by South Korean curling vice skip Seo Soon-Seok and Olympic silver medal-winning curling skip Kim Eun-Jung.
The ceremony began with a performance by Korean drummers, an interpretation of a traditional welcoming ceremony called a bin-rye. It ended with a K-pop performance indicative of much more modern Korean culture. As the ceremony drew to a close, U.S. athletes remained, dancing on the field of play until the last strains of music filtered through the stadium.
The cold never bothered them anyway.