SUNDAY JULY 17: OPENING CEREMONIES
SEE ALSO: Wade in the Water,
Lending Their Support and
STORY: H. Jose Bosch
PHOTOGRAPHY: Cheri Smith, Marilyn Indahl, Eleanor Jones, Sarah Merion
46 Different Teams, all on the Same Side
I saw it in the slowly growing crowd inside the John Labatt Centre in downtown London, Ontario from the elders sitting calmly in their seats to the young children fighting around, testing their parents' patience. I could hear languages of all kinds from Hebrew to Spanish, from Dutch to Arabic, and from Chinese to Finnish.
I saw diversity during the parade of nations. Forty-six different countries were represented and each one had its own personality. From the sharp-dressing Australians (with their Masters'-type green blazer and Crocodile Dundee hat combination) to the Germans in their all-red sweatsuits (reminicent of the ultra stylish Porshe). The Italian and Greek delagations proudly screamed their motherland's name, chanting "I-TA-LIA!" and "HELLAS!" respectively (the mischevious Greeks had fun reminding all of the European countries that they won the Euro 2004 football tournament) while Ireland brought the luck of the Irish along with them in the form of a leprechaun (have you seen my lucky charms?).
Flags of each of 46 nations participating were displayed proudly by friends, families, and fans as the athletes walked around. Some fans draped them over the second deck of the arena and others wore them as a cape. Those who had t-shirts displaying their national pride sat next to those with more subtle displays of nationality (a color-coordinated outfit or their county's flag on a strategically-placed pin).
Even the way people made noise was diverse. Good old fashioned whistling and clapping mixed with noise makers and loud horns. Despite this, the simple yelling and screaming was the predominant way to let everyone know you were in attendance.
There were also different types of lights and flashes in the crowd. The bright white flashes from cameras, the constant red "recording" light of video cameras, and the ingenious but eerie spinning "fan lights" sported by the Canadian delegation and their supporters, which resembled the eyes of an alien. Looking into the crowd I got the feeling I was being attacked by a barrage of unknown creatures who could be seen only by the light of their eyes.
And the transplants. From kidneys to livers all the athletes combined had just about every kind of transplant that medical science allows. Scars of all shapes and sizes are somtimes seen in plain view while at other times the scars are masked by just one layer of Fruit of the Loom. Similar procedures will produce wildy different stories from freinds and families. Though every athlete has had a transplant operation, no two stories behnd them are the same.
There is only one Lamaestra Domenico (heart, 1993) who participated in the 1995 World Transplant Games for Canada. Thanks to a donation from a girl's family he has never met, Domenico went on to win four medals (three silvers and one bronze) in track events.
"I wanted to prove that with a new heart, you can do whatever you want," Domenico said.
The opening ceromony at this year's World Transplant Games was a smorgasboard of mixed cultures, different languages, and varying ages. Right down to the entertainment of the evening (a mixture of different genres from disco, to rhythm and blues, to soul) nothing seemed alike.
Trapped inside a real life crayola box, I couldn't help but look for sameness in this sea of multiple ethnicities and cultures and I found it. This was best exemplified before the opening ceremonies, when teams were posing for group portraits, and the South African and Tunisian teams insisted on posing together, interleaved, with each person flanked by someone from the other team.
Every athlete and every family member, every fan and every supporter, every volunteer and even every reporter, had smiles on their faces.
And no matter how diverse an event can be, a smile is universal.