I confess that I love the Olympics. Every two years, whether summer or winter, you’ll find me nights and weekends (sometimes even weekdays!) watching sports and flicking between events on different channels. Sure, I’m tuning in to cheer on the Americans! But I also love learning about different sports, the compelling stories of those hard-working athletes, and falling into the nail-biting watching of close competitions.
Many people may not be aware, but a few weeks after the Olympics the Paralympic competitions take place in the same venues. This year athletes with a variety of disabilities traveled to South Korea to compete in sports. While the winter competitions are not as numerous, they are still varied: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice hockey (or sled hockey), snowboard, and wheelchair curling.
Every Paralympics season I learn about adaptive sports and their incredible athletes. When I watch, I’m even more amazed at the athleticism of the people with disabilities. It seems to me that they are competing in the same sports, but often having to work much harder to do it!
For example, in ice hockey the individuals sit on sleds and propel themselves around the ice using sticks because the athletes have mobility impairments (such as limb loss). These guys are moving just as fast on the ice, yet also have to propel the puck and score. My arms got sore just watching!
I’m amazed watching athletes ski down mountains on one leg, propel themselves on cross-country skis without arms, or twirl through a half-pipe on a snowboard using an artificial leg. When I watch these feats of daring I think: “they had to work a million times harder to compete!”
The Paralympic athletes are incredible because they are athletes who also happen to live with disabilities. They don’t let their physical limitations keep them from competing at sports that they love. It’s also a testament to the fact that everything can be adapted. The sport may be slightly altered in equipment and rules, but it’s still skiing, hockey, or curling.
Having some regrets
I regret that when I was a child I was pulled out of gym class and instead went to physical therapy. At the time it made sense because I needed PT. But it’s a shame that the school didn’t have a way of including me in sports, even just a little bit. Instead I was separated and heard the message that I couldn’t be an athlete because of my RA. Sure, I had limitations but it wasn’t like we were playing professional level sports in elementary school! There could have been options.
While I can’t go back in time and fight to be included in sports as a child, I can now appreciate the athleticism of Paralympians and cheer them on. They lead the way for including people with physical disabilities in sports and demonstrating that just about anyone can find a way to be an athlete. I may not compete, but I’m proud that I do my exercises, walking, and aqua therapy to keep physically active.
Learn more about the U.S. Paralympic Team and watch scenes from the Winter Paralympic Games.