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Public editor: Special family bond deserves the full story

Alex Bilodeau celebrates with his brother, Frédéric, after winning a gold medal in the men’s freestyle moguls event at the Sochi Winter Olympics Feb. 10, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

My favourite part of the Olympics Games are the human stories behind the medal counts and athleticism.

This year, so far, we have read a wonderful story by Roy MacGregor about the Dufour-Lapointe sisters, who put that bond ahead of competition and everything else.

Then there was the heart-warming story by Allan Maki about the Canadian coach who gave a despondent Russian cross-country skier a new ski after his shattered in competition.

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One of my favourites stories still is about the family of double gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau and his special bond with his older brother, his hero and greatest fan, Frédéric.

I was surprised to receive an e-mail from a woman who felt that The Globe and Mail should apologize to the "family and all people with cerebral palsy."

She said that "in today's day and age, we do not need labels depicting any condition that people may have. It is the basis of what we teach our children in school. Do not label anyone, period."

She asked what relevance there could be to mention that Frédéric Bilodeau has cerebral palsy. "Relevant in any way? No!!! Did you label him, YES. … Why???

"I sincerely hope you do the right thing and write a retraction with an apology to the Thibaudeau [Bilodeau] family and all families with people who have disabilities. An article written about how labels are not necessary in this day and era would be a great start!"

I believe quite the opposite. It isn't a label and there is no reason not to explain a visible condition such as cerebral palsy or any disorder, syndrome or illness. In fact, it is noteworthy that Frédéric's condition is part of the special bond between the brothers. You can see that in the wonderful photos of the brothers celebrating the win together.

In 2010, when Alexandre won a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics, Globe feature writer Ian Brown wrote about that bond. Alexandre dedicated that medal to his brother and he has spoken of the drive he has to do his best because of his brother. That year, he said of Frédéric; "Even though his abilities are getting lower, he's trying to improve every time. So where's my limit? If he's still skiing, where's my limit?"

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I urged the reader and you to read or re-read this wonderful piece.

Also, in this article by The Canadian Press, Alexandre explained how he is motivated by Frédéric. "Even if it's raining outside, or minus 40, and I'm like, 'Oh my God I don't want to go train today. It wouldn't be a big difference skipping one day,' " Bilodeau said in an interview during the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics. "But looking at my brother, to be able to give him that chance of being in my body for one day, and going to the Olympics, he would jump in my shoes and go out there and run a marathon. So I'm like 'Okay, let's stick to the plan, let's go.' "

Bilodeau said he feels a responsibility to Frédéric to push himself. "Most of his dreams are not realistic, and when I think about it, I'm like 'Where are my limits?' I have to remember that," he explained. "And out of respect for my brother I have to go after these dreams and to do all within my power to try to make it happen."

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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