Thousands turned up to Nathan Phillips Square to watch the sun set on not just the Parapan Am Games, but Panamania in the city itself.
The square was the site of the closing ceremony Saturday night, which marked the end of an intense week of athletic competition between 28 nations and more than 1,600 athletes. Representing Canada as the country’s flag bearer, Zak Madell helped bring home the gold in the first ever wheelchair rugby — popularly known as “Murderball” — event at the Parapan Ams.
The Games were a reminder to many attending the closing ceremony that athletes come from all abilities. Teresa Berlot, who is paraplegic and attended many events, said her favourite event was seated volleyball.
“They are strong and you can see their strength,” she said.
But tonight wasn’t just an end to the Games, it was an end to the great Panamania experiment. After years of preparation and billions of dollars, the city can finally return to normal.
“To the athletes, you thrilled us, you filled our hearts with patriotism, you filled our minds with wonder. We hosted you. You changed us,” said Toronto2015 CEO Saad Rafi.
While some residents have expressed frustration about gridlock, others hope the Games are just the beginning. Vikas Gupta, who was at the closing ceremony with his family and friends from out of town, says he hopes the Games will pave the way for the Olympics.
“It's about time that Toronto gets on the map,” Gupta said.
The ceremony featured some truly spectacular fireworks set against the backdrop of city hall, and performances from Wyclef Jean, Canadian country star Meghan Patrick and Toronto-native Mustafa the Poet. Jean, a Haitian-American, was incandescently charismatic and a spot-on choice for headliner. But it was Mustafa the Poet, who recited one of his spoken-word poems before the Pan Am flame was extinguished, who brought soul to the closing ceremonies.
“And they've seen me crawl /So they must watch me fly / Let them see the wounds under wings / That were once sky deprived,” he said.
The whole competition was an eye-opener for the country about what people with disabilities can do, said Martha Sandoval-Gustafson. Donning a bright yellow shirt that proclaimed “real athletes, real stories, real theatre,” Sandoval-Gustafson made sure she had a good seat for the show.
The shirt is the title of a play which premiered during Parapan, and Sandoval-Gustafson is proud of what it means. She's used a wheelchair since she was a child in Mexico, after contracting polio as a baby. She's been involved in just about every sport since she was a child, from shot-put to curling. Nothing stops her.
“I can do everything,” she said.