At this point, the team reports to the Paralympics newspaper, a project of the Tagesspiegel and the German Social Accident Insurance. All the texts of our digital series can be found here. You can find all the latest news on our blog and on the social media channels of the Paralympics newspaper. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Our reader survey can be found here.
Mr. McKeever, after participating in five Paralympic Games, will finish his career in Beijing. What are your earliest memories of winter sports?
I have vague memories of skiing in our backyard when I was two years old, then somewhere in the park next door, and later in the mountains.
When did you think about becoming a professional athlete?
I was lucky to have my older brother, Robin, who paved the way for me. He is six years older and made the national team at 16. As a younger brother, I wanted to do what he did. So I followed in his footsteps and made it to the Junior World Championship. Immediately afterwards I was diagnosed with Morbus Stargardt eye disease, which my father and aunt also suffer from. But they also made me realize that I can keep skiing.
Do you remember your first experiences as an athlete?
My first experience with the Para team was around 1999, a year after my diagnosis. There I met my first guide, who later accompanied me for many years. He showed me what the Paralympic Games and Para-Ski mean. He was a great mentor, a great team leader. He just made me feel like he was a part of something big.
Shortly after, your brother became your guide and took you to the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Paralympics. Tell me about your relationship with him.
I always wanted to be like him. When he started guiding me, we eventually became best friends. Sport has finally made us brothers. We have always had this connection, the love for sport and skiing and we want to see it grow together.
In 2010 you were about to participate in the Olympic Games.
A great childhood dream came true for me. I never gave up on that goal. In 2007, I had the best finish among Canadians at the World Championships and wanted to make it to the Olympics, via the Para World route. Qualifying was like winning the lottery.
However, things turned out differently.
I feel like plans have been made that I won’t start. And so it was, although in reality I was the best. That was the worst news of my life. It feels trivial now, but that’s how it was for me back then. It was harder for me than the news that I was losing my sight. After that, I didn’t even want to go to the Paralympics. I wanted to stop I will probably never fully get over it, it was the best time of my life. But all I can do is live in the moment with my heart and eyes to the future. Everything that happened in the past probably made me an even stronger person.
Today you are one of the most successful winter para athletes in the world. After winning gold medals, he can tie with unique record holder Gerd Schönfelder (16 times gold) this Saturday. What do all the medals and honors mean in your life?
I never played the sport for recognition or medals. I love what I do, working on technique, analyzing, the technology behind skiing. I love working with the team, advising the youngest. Every day we can learn something new, travel the world, meet wonderful people and visit exciting places. That motivates me to do all the hard work. There are no shortcuts or secrets to competitive sports. If people just want to do it for the medals, it usually doesn’t work.
In this year’s Super Bowl, Toyota showed a commercial in which you play the main role. It caused quite a stir. How did you and your brother Robin get involved?
A year ago, Toyota approached me. I was so excited! After I applied, I was accepted, which was very exciting because it’s hard to find sponsors. Then when I saw the final campaign, I got really emotional and cried. It is difficult to see all the difficult moments of your life cut into a short video. We feel seen, heard and represented. I’m very grateful for that. We are all the same people.
Was there a reaction that particularly moved you?
I have heartbreaking news. There is no manual for the situation in which you have a disabled child. I’ve had some wonderful conversations and been able to put people at ease and say that it’s hard, but it’s also becoming more normal over time.
Mr. McKeever, due to the human rights situation in China, the Canadian government decided not to attend the Games. What role does politics play in your life?
I am a political person. I’m angry, I’m going to vote. It is part of my obligation as a citizen. I try to be as informed as possible. But I’m also still an athlete. My job is to compete in races. I am lucky to be away from the media for weeks and months, to be alone in nature. But there are also so many things happening that affect us all.
Where do you draw the line between sports and politics?
I believe that sport is fundamentally political. Anyone who says that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are politically independent is lying to himself. We represent a nation, let’s go up to the podium with our flag, let’s sing the national anthem. All this is political. Even celebrating after the finish line, personal success is political.
Are you trying to separate sports and politics?
Yes. Because the only thing we want is good, clean and fair competitions. This is the Olympic and Paralympic spirit. This is a wonderful ideal. I appreciate the respect between the athletes, there is a lot of friendship there, even though we are strong competitors. We are connected through sport. But we are also in difficult times. We are going through a pandemic, it is a war. It’s all very sad. But I don’t feel bad about playing the games. It is a celebration of sport that is sadly overshadowed by the horrible things that are happening in the world that are taking lives. I realize this is nothing compared to what these people are going through right now. And yet, it is our life and what we want to do.
The end of your career is certain. When you look back, do you regret anything?
I really don’t regret it. Everything that happened happened, I can’t change anything anymore. I try to enjoy every moment, no matter what happens, no matter where. That is more important to me than looking back with regret.
What awaits you after Beijing?
I will gently withdraw. It’s hard to stop like this. I’m going to take a step back, train less, have more fun and try other options. But I will always be connected to skiing, whether through watching, training, or in some other way.