By Gary Kingston, Vancouver Sun August 31, 2012
LONDON — Nathan Stein hardly seemed “speechless” in the moments immediately following his first Paralympic medal, a silver in the S10 50-metre freestyle.
“I mean, holy smokes — first Paralympics, you can't ask for more than that, right.”
But the 20-year-old from Maple Ridge did seem to still be in disbelief 25 minutes later when he came out on the pool deck for the medal ceremony. He clasped his head in his hands as he took his position, then patted his heart as if to assure himself that this was, in fact, reality.
Even then, though, after the medal was put around his neck, he kept staring down at it, fingering it in his hands with a sense of wide-eyed wonder.
The big, gregarious kid, broad-shouldered and sporting a “No Surrender” tattoo over his heart, could easily pass for an Olympian until you catch a closer glimpse of his left leg.
It's been operated on a dozen times since the age of 11 when “I happened to break half my knee off” while playing soccer. He had a bone deficiency — Osteochondritis Dissecans — in the knee, a condition that had worsened over time.
“Really unfortunate, but that's the name of the game,” Stein said in matter-of-fact manner. “When you go in for that many surgeries, it doesn't really matter any more. It just seems like it's so repetitive, like you don't know what else to do.
“If [doctors] call me after we get back and say ‘Hey, we've got to clean everything up,’ I'll be like ‘sure, whatever. When do you want me.’ ”
When he hasn't been undergoing surgery or recovering from it — “I do need my entire knee replaced, I've got no cartilage, no support” — he's been in the pool, competing in meets for both able-bodied swimmers and those with a disability.
He still likes competing against guys he grew up with, but says the Paralympics have given him a second chance.
“It really is for me,” says Stein, who competes in a class for athletes with minimal physical disability. “The Paralympics is such an amazing opportunity for someone like me who didn't have aspirations to go to the Olympics, at least after I broke my knee.”
Stein's time of 23.58 seconds over one length of the pool was .42 seconds behind the brilliant Brazilian, David Brasil, but still a personal best and faster than he had ever swam before.
“Andre's such an amazing swimmer — 23.16, that's amazing. I went a lot faster than I thought I was going to go. Our goal was 23.9 at the Games and we go 23.5. Nothing but good news.
“It gives me a load of confidence,” added Stein, who will face Brasil, a quadruple gold medallist at Beijing in 2008, and Canadian star Benoit Huot, a nine-time Paralympic gold medallist, in the marquee 100 freestyle. “I know I can keep up with the best of them. I know I can give Andre a little scare and make him shake in his boots a little bit.”
Stein's medal is sure to go over big in Maple Ridge, where he helped coach the Haney Dolphins swim club this year. In July, parents of kids in the club did a relay to help raise money for Stein.
“That was really funny, oh my. I mean some of the parents who hadn't even touched the water since, I don't know, since they were six years old, hopped in and did it. All their kids were going 'you didn't swim fast enough' and 'you didn't breathe this many times.' That was super funny.”