Part of what makes the Paralympics so enthralling, says former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, are the stories of the athletes and their inspirational tales of overcoming hardship.

Sullivan said the most memorable moments of the Winter Olympics were the stories of athletes like Joannie Rochette and Alexandre Bilodeau.

The latter drew inspiration from his brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, while Rochette won bronze in women’s figure skating only days after the unexpected death of her mother.

“The Paralympic Games has backstory galore,” said Sullivan, Canada’s ambassador to the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

“Every individual is not only a great athlete, but has a story of triumph over adversity in so many different ways.”

The Paralympics, which begin Friday in Vancouver, feature a record 57 hours of high-definition televised coverage.

In Vancouver, sledge hockey will be held at the University of B.C. and wheelchair curling at the Vancouver Paralympic Centre. Alpine skiing, biathlon and cross-country skiing will be held in Whistler and the Callahan Valley. Sullivan said it is the first time that an Olympic Organizing Committee has sought the Paralympics, rather than just being handed them.

He said it speaks to the Canadian value of inclusiveness and makes society stronger. In his role as ambassador, Sullivan said he’s trying to ensure that everybody values and treats the Paralympics on equal footing as the Olympics — including protesters, he joked. “I’m certainly hoping the protesters will show their respect to the Paralympics and protest them as well.”

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