The main street in Nendaz was dotted with a boisterous parade
of expectant athletes, whose torches - held high in the gathering
dusk and fog - illuminated not just the reds and greens and
other patriotic hues of the 16 countries represented but also
the joy on the faces of their huddled teammates and the competitors
they will meet in the days to come.
From the Tourist Office to the Skating-rink, along the narrow
street and under looming mountain peaks, they came together
in celebration - united in a common effort; joined in a common
'I welcome you with the Deserter... We come from
the race of those who give, of those who give
lovingly, for those who are humble enough to receive...'
(from Farinet's welcome)
Friends and family and other well-wishers had lined the parade
route, and now they rimmed the rink with praise and patience,
braving the brisk night air and blowing warmth into their
hands as the ceremonies began.
As a smoldering bonfire at one end of the oval rink warmed
the hearty vegetable soup and mulled wine that would stoke
the revelry to follow, local dignitaries and other Games officials
assembled at the other end, with the flags of all the represented
countries placed strategically behind them. A long, bowed
line of some 300 proud participants stood at relaxed attention
as a drum corps, and group of musketeers, saluted them.
The first to address the gathered throng was the legendary
pair of Swiss folk heroes, the Deserter and Farinet. According
to local lore, the Deserter was a member of the Swiss Army
who thought better of his assignment and left his post to
Farinet - mischievous and altruistic - forged coins, which
he distributed to those in need. Though he had managed for
a long while to avoid imprisonment, the crusader for social
justice was finally captured and killed by police. Yet the
life of this good-hearted thief remains in the hearts of his
Addressing the crowd, Farinet said, in part: 'I welcome you
with the Deserter... We come from the race of those who .. give
lovingly... You who have received an organ have a body that
has accepted it lovingly. Your face says that you recognize
The impossible task of following a legend fell to Francis
Dumas, president of the Commune of Nendaz, whose wonderful
and rousing welcome, delivered in French, included the inspiring
observation that this is a 'unique occasion for us to appreciate
that life is full of tenacity and passion and will not accept
the notion of giving up, or discouragement.' His wise words
were translated into English by Liz Schick, a member of the
Swiss team and organizer of the Nicholas Cup, who then
translated into French the warm remarks of Maurice Slapak,
Winter World Transplant Games President, who said he was truly
impressed with the 'brilliant effort by the Swiss Organizing
Committee. Congratulations and thanks from all of us to every
single one of you.'
After Winter World Games President Jacqueline Casari read
a letter from Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International
Olympic Committee, and followed with her own call for action
in a humble and heartfelt talk, it was time for the athletes'
vow, which promises competition 'in the pure spirit of sport
and fairness, and to honor my donor.'
Which is why the participants carried torches - for their
doctors and their families, for their many friends and other
supporters, and for all donors, everywhere, and their families.
There are so many people to thank, and to remember. And these
athletes have come to these Games in their honor, to continue
the celebration of the life - created anew - that their sacrifices
Following this vow, Beat Gottschalck, the Technical Director
of the Games, excitedly pronounced the Games 'Open!'
And just as quickly the ice was filled with kids on skates,
scampering after snowflakes and chocolate coins being tossed
around the rink by Farinet. As the children wrestled, and
a brass band trumpeted, the party rose and transported itself
to the pavilion above the rink - and the celebration continued
well into the night.