In a bittersweet bookend to his single term as Vancouver's mayor, quadriplegic Sam Sullivan will participate in the torch relay at next month's Paralympics in Beijing.
Sullivan, who left for the Chinese capital on Tuesday, came to worldwide attention in 2006 when, as the new mayor of the host city for the 2010 Winter Games, he accepted the Olympic flag in Turin.
The image of Sullivan joyfully spinning on stage in his powered wheelchair, the fluttering flag secured to a special holder, was a highlight of the Turin Games.
That holder, adorned with Vancouver's civic crest, has been adapted to take the Olympic torch, though Sullivan joked this will be a little riskier than clutching the flag.
"The problem is how to make sure the mayor doesn't catch on fire," said Sullivan as he prepared to board his flight.
"I'm worried about a big gust of wind that comes this way. My job is to come back with my hair intact."
Sullivan won't be presiding over the Vancouver and Whistler Games as mayor because he's not on the ballot in this fall's municipal elections.
The veteran city councillor's victory in the November, 2005 mayoralty race raised expectations that the tough political infighter never fulfilled as far as his backers were concerned.
His civic party, the Non-Partisan Association, rejected him as their mayoral candidate for this November in favour of another councillor, former journalist Peter Ladner.
"Of course I would have loved to be able to give the flag away as I received it for Torino," he said Tuesday.
"I accept that politics is a roller coaster. I'm just so honoured to be able to represent Vancouver in Beijing, to have represented Vancouver in Torino."
Sullivan said he received between 4,000 and 5,000 letters from around the world after his appearance at Turin.
He said his participation - along with nine other Canadians - in the Paralympic torch relay may not have the same impact but it's another opportunity to showcase Vancouver and encourage expansion of accessibility for disabled people.
"I know China's working hard to make greater wheelchair access," he said.
"I've been to Beijing before and they are making some real efforts but there hasn't been a real awareness of the capabilities of people with disabilities to contribute."
Sullivan, 48, has been in a wheelchair since breaking his neck in a skiing accident at age 19. Before entering politics, he was an activist for the disabled and founded several non-profit organizations to help them.
"I know the fact that I'm in a wheelchair and the host of an Olympic city has made a lot of people take interest," he said.
People with significant disabilities, if they're given the opportunity, if they're given an accessible city, they can contribute to their community."
Sullivan will spend 20 days in Beijing to promote Vancouver and its upcoming Games and to participate in the torch relay for the Paralympics, which start Sept. 6.
He will also be taking a personal vacation.
- CANADIAN PRESS