February 16, 2010 / 10:58 PM / in 8 years

Blind Canadian ready for Olympic history

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A video recording of the cross country course at the Vancouver Olympics may seem like a useless training tool for a legally blind athlete, but Canadian Brian McKeever has studied every frame.

<p>Blind cross country skier Brian McKeever trains at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta, February 3, 2010. Legally blind since his late teenage years, Canada's McKeever will achieve a long-cherished dream and a unique place in the record books when he represents his country at this month's Vancouver Games. The popular cross country skier from Canmore, Alberta will become the first athlete to compete in both a Winter Olympics and a Paralympics and he fervently hopes to inspire as many people as he can -- whether they are disabled or able-bodied. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>

McKeever, the first athlete to compete in both the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, has Stargardt’s disease, which has left him with about 10 percent vision, all of it peripheral.

It is still enough vision for him to watch a video he filmed of the 50 km course at the mountain resort of Whistler, but he cannot look directly at the screen like most people do.

“It’s a loss of central vision. My peripheral vision is still 100 percent,” McKeever said at a press conference. “It’s sort of a strange thing because when everyone else would look directly at an image, I look above it or around it.”

McKeever has studied the video and expects to have a solid idea of how to get around the 50 km course on February 28.

The 30-year-old, who seems relaxed for someone about to make sports history, is not the first member of his family to compete in the Games. His older brother Robin competed in cross country for Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano.

Robin serves as his brother’s guide during cross-country Paralympics competition, where McKeever has won seven medals.

But McKeever will be on his own in the Olympic races, so he plans to use the actions of other racers as visual cues during the competition.

“I’ll just have to find some fast people to follow and hope that I can hang on... The only thing I have to remember is that they’re not out there for me,” said McKeever. “They’re out there to beat me, I‘m out there to beat them.”

Stargardt’s is an inherited disease that McKeever’s father also suffers from.

McKeever says growing up watching his father deal with the disease and live a normal a life in Canmore, Alberta, was part of the reason he knew he could compete in the Olympics.

“It’s just better to get on living life because, if not, it just passes you by,” he said.

Editing by Frank Pingue

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