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Almost mainstream: Disabled and Paralympic sport

April 12, 2014

Sports on the brain, yep – that’s me. I love sports and recently I have come become more familiar with disabled and Paralympic sport. My hero is Canadian cross-country skier Brian McKeever. For anyone who knows anything about cross-country skiing, I am pretty sure he doesn’t need an introduction.

A couple days ago I had a great opportunity: I got to meet two Finland’s most well-known Winter Paralympic athletes: alpine-skier Katja Saarinen and snowboard crosser Matti Suur-Hamari. So how did that opportunity come about?

I got inspired by this:

This is the daughter of a friend of mine from high school. She has been using a prosthetic since she was about two. As you can see she’s an accomplished skier (also a work in progress!) and she plays hockey. This little firecracker has a fantastic future ahead of her in sports, if she chooses that path.

When the Winter Olympics in Sochi had come to a close, I told the Little Miss that the Paralympics were not far behind and we would be able to watch more sports. I gave her a little introduction to Paralympic sport on YouTube and answered a bazillion questions. Then I suggested that we could try and get some Paralympic athletes to visit her class at school. She liked that idea. When I pitched it to one of her teachers, the response was an enthusiastic yes, but for the whole school. So with a little footwork on my part and some organization by the Little Miss’ school the opportunity presented itself. Little did we know we were receiving Finland’s star winter Paralympic athletes!

In Sochi, Katja Saarinen participated in her fourth and final Paralympics games in alpine skiing. She has been skiing for what seems an age. Her skiing career spans many years and according to her Sochi Paralympic profile, she first competed back in 2002. In Sochi, she was the flag bearer for Team Finland and finished 12th in the Women’s Standing Giant Slalom. She decided to call it quits after the Sochi games and now works as a development manager for the Finnish Paralympic Committee.

Sochi represented the first Paralympic games for Matti Suur-Hamari. While he had been snowboarding prior to his accident, he didn’t take it up competitively until 2012. He was named the International Paralympic Committee’s athlete of the month in February 2014. He finished 11th in the Men’s Standing Snowboard cross event.

It is hard to cram everything into 45 minutes, but that’s all we had with Katja and Matti. They began by showing an introductory video from the Finnish Paralympic Committee showing a myriad of Paralympic winter sports. Then they showed videos of their performances in Sochi. With a bit of explanation and some prodding the kids began to ask questions.

To Katja: “You only have one leg in the video, so how is it that you have two legs right now?” Katja explained the nature of her disability; her leg was amputated when she was a child due to inoperable and untreatable cancer. And she described what kind of prosthetic she had, describing it as a “robot leg.” The kids’ curiosity was piqued. Did they want to see what it looked like: an enthusiastic yes from the kids assembled and many ooohhs and ahhhhs at this moment:

Alpine Paralympic skier Katja Saarinen

Alpine Paralympic skier Katja Saarinen

To Matti (after they figured out that he also has a leg amputation): “What happened to you?” Matti was in a motorcycle accident over four years ago and his leg was amputated below the knee.

What was funny (or maybe not because we all know what kids are like) was their interest in pain and the “blood and gore” of their amputations.

  • “Did it hurt?”
  • “Were you sad when they had to remove your leg?”
  • “What did they do with your leg after they removed it?”
  • “Did they put you to sleep when you had your operation?”
  • “Do you have phantom pain?”
  • “What does the end of your leg look like now?”
  • “Does it hurt right now?”
  • “How do you put your leg on?”
  • “Do you take your leg off to sleep?”
  • “Can you take off your shoe” (To Matti)

I also had the chance to ask some questions:

  • “How did things go in Sochi?” (See above)
  • “The courses looked challenging, how do they compare to the courses able-bodied athletes ski on?” Katja mentioned that the courses were essentially the same for alpine skiing, but the snow conditions were pretty challenging because it was so warm, resulting in heavy, slushy conditions. There are, however, fewer and smaller jumps in Paralympic ski courses.
  • To Matti: “How does skicross work at the Paralympic level?” In men’s standing skicross there are three runs and results are calculated based on the two best times and the third one discarded. Para skicrossers board alone, it is not like the roller derby of the skicross of the able-bodied crew.
  • “Do you train with the (able-bodied) national teams?” Katja: No, but she has trained with the junior national team. Matti: Yes, he does, the training is essentially the same.
  • “You two are athletes, so do you have different legs for different purposes?” Katja: Well, she skis in competition without her prosthetic, but she does have a prosthetic for everyday use and one for sporting activities. Matti: Yes, I have three legs: one for every day use (he pointed to the one he had on), a running leg (a blade) and one for snowboarding and sport activity.

I hope I can be forgiven for my infinite curiosity and wanting to ask questions, but the last thing I want to do is offend someone. I am sure I could have asked questions all day…

That being said, if you’re in Finland and you want your child and his/her cohorts to meet Paralympic athletes, be sure to contact the Finnish Paralympic Committee. Their school can apply to be part of Para School Day (site is in Finnish), which is in fact administered by Katja herself.

Check out how these two roll!

One of Matti’s runs from Sochi.

Katja in a training run prior to Sochi

Katja was chosen as one of Samsung Finland’s Galaxy Team members and this great video was made showing her hard at work training:

Katja has also been mountain climbing.

Here’s a listing of some of Finland’s active Paralympic athletes (in Finnish).

Want to know more about Paralympic sport classification? Well, back in January I found two really great articles in a magazine put out by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). This issue featured fantastic news about the world of Paralympic sport. I turn your attention to page 28 (Paralympic classification) and page 34 (Appropriately interviewing athletes with a disability).

Disabled sport definitely has more visibility than in the past. I am still disappointed, for example, to see that wheelchair sprinter Leo-Pekka Tähti (in spite of holding six IPC World Championship medals (2-2-2), five Paralympic Games medals (4-0-1) and a world record in the T54 class in the 100m has still not been selected as Finland’s athlete of the year, in spite of being nominated several times over the last few years.

I look forward to the day when the Olympics and the Paralympics (and other disciplines’ World Championships and World Cup events) are staged at the same time; then the final wall will have come down. Disabled sport is not about the nature of disability – it’s all about ability. Katja and Matti said it all the other day when they both iterated that they had not yet found a sport or activity that they had not been able to do.

Thanks Katja and Matti, it was really great to meet you!

Katja Saarinen and Matti Suur-Hamari

Katja Saarinen and Matti Suur-Hamari

Starting from the beginning: Learning Finnish

April 10, 2014

Learning Finnish: the nightmare of many a people who have moved to this country. Finnish seems to be particularly difficult for native speakers of English, as documented in a news piece from YLE News last fall. According to the US-based Foreign Service Institute, Finnish is identified as a language “with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English” and requires at least 1100 hours of instruction in order to learn it.

Well, I can say that I haven’t had 1100 hours of instruction, but I did get instruction right from the beginning, starting with the alphabet. This is a chief complaint of mine with regards to Finnish language instruction in this country. Start from the beginning, teach students of Finnish the alphabet first, it sure would help – instead of throwing people into phrases and sentences that require monumental effort to learn properly, especially at the beginning.


So, can I help you? Maybe I can. I am no expert, here is a rough (read: rough) pronunciation guide for you. The Finnish alphabet in sounds (aimed at the English speaker – I am from Canada, however, so my pronunciation may be different than yours!):

A – as in “Awwww, isn’t that cute?”
B – as in the sound of the word “bet” – minus the “T” of course
C – as in the sound of the word “set” – minus the “T”
D – as in the sound of the word “debt” – minus the “BT”
E – is a short e sound like in “bet”, “set”, “kept”… “ee”, a short E sound
F – in English we pronounce this “ef”, in Finnish it is “af”, with a short A sound
G – as in the sound of the word “get” – minus the “T”
H – as in the sound of the word “hoe”
I – as in the sound of the word “eek” – think of the “EE” sound in words like “seed”, “teen”
J – sounds like “yee” – combine the sound of “Y” as in the beginning of “you” and the “EE” sound
K – as in the sound of the word “cone” – minus the “NE”, also like co- as in co-operate
L – got a friend name Al? Say it like that, but say it quickly and don’t linger on the L
M – think of “I am…” “am”, with a short A sound, got it?
N – think of an apple, “an”, with a short A sound
O – long O sound as in “Oh!” and “go”, it is Espoo [Es-poh], not Espoo [Es-poo], no not poo!
P – as in the sound of the word “pet” – minus the “T”
Q – the word moon in Finnish is “kuu” – think “coo”, same sound
R – This might be a tough one, but think French. The French roll Rs – so do the Finns, So, short A sound in “ar” – roll the R with your tongue. One of the first words you learn in Finnish might be “perkele” – and if you can roll your R, you’re good in every Finns’ book!
S – as in the sound of “ass” (yes, really – but say it short and fast, don’t drag out the sound)
T – as in the sound of the word “tech” – minus the “CH” – “tee” with a short E sound
U – as in the sound of “OO” in the word “boot”, long O sound
V – as in the sound of the word “vet” – minus the “T”
W – double V or “tupla vee” or “kaksois vee”, even if a Finnish word includes the letter W, Finns mostly pronounce it as “vee”
X – think “ax” – the tool and there is the letter X
Y – Hmmm, this is a tough one. I have always struggled with Y and Ö. Well, in Finnish there are words like “kyy” (viper) and “pyy” (partridge) – ask a Finn for help with one, I am afraid I can’t.
Z – I might get this one wrong and that would mean I have been getting it wrong for nearly 17 years! Okay, so Z (zed in Canada) is pronounced “seta” (short A at the end).

And the Finnish alphabet also includes three additional letters:

Ä – this is a short A sound, as in “bat”, “cat”, “hat”
Ö – The only reference I can give you to this sound off the top of my head if from French “Un peu” -say that several times and this is the sound of Ö (the eu of “peu”)
Å – Swedish O – or Ruotsalainen O, it sounds like “oh”

I might be way off on some of this, but I am just an amateur – hoping to help others who struggle with the the Finnish language.

Have fun! Try to learn a new word every day, even if you don’t remember it the next day! :)


April Fool’s Finland style

April 2, 2014

So, I have lived here since 1998 and I have learned a lot of things about Finland over the years – including the 110 percent effort that they put into April Fool’s jokes.

The media outlets scheme (for days I am sure) on how to get those gullible people! Me included… I blame it on a language barrier, but I suppose that excuse is wearing thin. I am just gullible – period.

By the time I had composed this draft yesterday I’d counted three that I had already fallen for. Including this one from Suomen Poliisi (from Facebook) with the following caption:

“Poliisille viisisataa PASI-panssariajoneuvoa

Poliisi ottaa 1.4.2014 käyttöön viisisataa PASI-panssariajoneuvoa. Nämä armeijasta tutut kuljetuspanssariajoneuvot ovat tunnettuja kestävyytensä ja nopeutensa lisäksi myös siitä, että niissä on potkurikoneistot vesiajoa varten.

Normaalisti PASI-ajoneuvon suurin nopeus maantiellä on 105 km/h ja vedessä 10 km/h. Poliisille tulevat Pasit varustetaan kuitenkin ns. tehokkaammilla poliisimoottoreilla, jonka ansiosta huippunopeudet ovat maantiellä 300 km/h ja vedessä 75 km/h.

Yksi peruste hankinnalle oli PASI-ajoneuvojen mittavat sisätilat, sillä ajoneuvoon mahtuu kahden poliisin lisäksi 16 ihmistä.

“Mittavista sisätiloista on hyötyä ratsioita pidettäessä. Nykyään sakotettavat joutuvat odottamaan poliisiauton ulkopuolella omaa vuoroaan milloin missäkin kelissä. PASI-ajoneuvon lämpimiin sisätiloihin mahtuu kerralla tusinan verran sakotettavia odottelemaan”, kertoo poliisin raskaan kaluston hankintapäällikkö Kaarlo Balkan.

Ehkä ratkaisevin ominaisuus kalustohankinnasta päätettäessä oli kuitenkin PASI-ajoneuvojen potkurikoneistot.

“Tässä suhteessa odotamme saavamme aikaan melkoisia säästöjä jo muutaman vuoden sisällä. Aikaisemmin yksiköissä on jouduttu pitämään veneitä ja vesiskoottereita vesiliikenteen valvontaa varten. Nyt erillistä venekalustoa ei enää tarvita, sillä yksi ajoneuvo pystyy hoitamaan liikennevalvonnan niin maanteillä kuin vesillä”, Balkan sanoo.

Poliisi juhlistaa uuden kaluston käyttöönottoa esittelemällä PASI-ajoneuvoja yleisölle. Kaikki viisisataa Pasia ajetaan letkassa Helsingin Kauppatorille, jossa ne siirtyvät Kolera-altaan kautta mereen ja siitä edelleen Suomenlinnaan.

Oheisen tekstin myötä Suomen poliisi toivottaa tykkääjilleen erittäin hyvää aprillipäivää :)”


I decided I should stay off the Internet for my own safety. :D

Picture of the day

March 27, 2014

We pretty much didn’t have winter here this year, so bring on the spring!


Dog names in Finland

March 25, 2014

I think I have mentioned before that Finns are real dog lovers. I ran across a snippet of info in the Yhteishyvä magazine put out by the retail S-Group. Below is a list of the top 10 names for dogs compiled by the Finnish Kennel Club… Finns prefer short names for their dogs, and surprisingly a lot of them are names for people as well. Isn’t that a bit weird?

So, here you are – the top ten dog names in Finland in 2013 (number):

1. Bella (3374)
2. Jeri (2912)
3. Rita (2696)
4. Taru (2600)
5. Riku (2470)
6. Pimu (2350)
7. Roope (2179)
8. Siru (2106)
9. Anu (2100)
10. Tessu (2098)

And while on the subject of dogs, magician and mentalist Jose Ahonen published a video on YouTube the other day called Magic for dogs. I found it incredibly funny. :) It’s nearing 7.5 million views already!

Picture of the day

March 17, 2014

Last week I checked the mail when I got home and saw this in my mailbox.


So if you get it, you’ll see that a cat has gotten a “dog magazine.” Our letter carrier had evidently dropped a letter meant for our neighbours into our box. The card actually requests the receiver to bring the letter to the closest post office. I just dropped it into the right mailbox as our letter carrier had suggested.

Significance: I have never gotten one of these before, just thought I’d share it. :)


GoExpo is *the* exhibition for the sports junkie!

March 13, 2014

Last weekend Messukeskus (the Helsinki Exhibition Centre) hosted the annual GoExpo, *the* exhibition for the sports junkie in your family. There are several smaller sports-themed exhibitions mixed into one, including golf, fitness, bikes, fishing, hunting, trekking and the horse fair and the photo and camera fair. As I have mentioned before, the Mr. and I run our own small company called OP-Sport and we took part in the Ball Sports Expo, which was set up in Hall 7. We were promoting KIN-BALL (which is played in 30 countries around the world) and had some help from the International KIN-BALL Federation. I won’t get into KIN-BALL here, if you want to know more, you can always google it.

In any case, the Ball Sports Expo is a great opportunity for those more “obscure” sports in Finland to take the stage for the weekend. The Finnish Olympic Committee was also on board and gave kids (of all ages) the opportunity to fill in a check list of sports that we (yes, we) could try as part of the Kids Olympics. In no specific order that included: KIN-BALL, American football, rugby, padel, tennis, badminton, baseball, basketball, handball, budo sport (including taido, taekwondo and aikido), floorball (also known as salibandy), footbag, soccer (which can’t be considered “obscure” in Finland), field hockey, paralympic sport, volleyball, liaanihyppy (which translates to Liana vault) and sailing and boating. The Ball Sports Expo also included other organizations dedicated to sport including Ice Hearts, Liike (has ties to children’s sport in Tanzania), the Kuortane Sports Institute and Extreme Toys (which includes rodeo riding simulators!). There were a few retailers along as well selling salibandy equipment, sports clothing and sports simulator experiences.

I only spent Saturday at the expo because of other committments, but I sure did learn a lot!

I played slo-pitch baseball when I was still living in Canada, so I was so happy to be able to give the batting cage a try. :) Unfortunately women’s baseball (in any form) has not caught on in Finland, women’s pesäpallo is still queen. Tony Jones is spearheading a lot of the groundwork for baseball in Finland and was happy to report that they have gotten some good backing from the Finnish Pesäpalloliitto.

I finally got to throw a handball (and wishing I was younger, so I could play!) and learned that there are different sizes of balls for kids, women and men… You learn something every day.

I knew footbag as hacky sack when I went to university. The men’s national footbag team was at the Ball Sports Expo and I can tell ya, footbag demands a high degree of speed and agility! Footbag is played on a court the same size as a badminton court. When they were on the field I found out that the leading country in the sport is Canada. :)

I tried field hockey once when I was in high school and was happy to give ball handling a go. The stick technology has changed since I was a kid and learned there are different kinds of sticks depending on the position one plays.

Padel is kind of like tennis and was a new addition to the Ball Sports Expo this year.

The Little Miss had a riot and by far her favourites were American football, rugby and Liana vaulting. She practically wore herself out! :D

To attest to the growing popularity of the GoExpo, 48,000 people visited the exhibitions over the course of the weekend and on OP-Sport’s behalf, it was a good one for us too! KIN-BALL was well-received, as were the other balls that we threw out on the field. :D

The 2015 GoExpo will be held from March 6-8 – watch for it!

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