Special Olympics Torch Run

We have all seen and heard about the story of the Olympic Torch and watched it be carried into the stadium during the opening ceremonies where it remains lit for the duration of the games. Likewise, we have watched the flame be put out during the closing ceremonies. Several months before the start of the Olympics at Olympia, Greece, the site of the ancient Olympics, the Olympic Torch is ignited and culminates on the day of the opening ceremonies and is typically carried into the main stadium by a sports celebrity from the country that is hosting the games. Said individual uses the torch to start the afore-mentioned flame and this signals the true start of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Torch passes through various cities and towns and is often mentioned on the news in the days and months leading up to the Olympics.

However, what many people are not aware of is the Special Olympics Torch Run which is officially referred as the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). The LETR has a primary goal very similar to that of this blog, raising awareness of and in their case, money for the Special Olympics brand. Since its inception in 1981, the LETR has raised over $400 million for the Special Olympics. As one might expect, this also serves as the largest fundraiser for the Special Olympics, raising more $42.1 million in 2011. You may be wondering why exactly it is referred to as the Law Enforcement Torch Run. That is due to the fact that every two years before the World Winter and Summer games, law enforcement officers, Special Olympic athletes and support officials take part in the LETR. During the most recent LETR, there was a team of 130 members that took part in the run prior to the Special Olympic World Winter Games that were held this past January in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea. However, these runs are not just held before global competitions, they are also conducted before various local, state and national Special Olympic competitions as well. The only difference between those and the LETR that is held prior to the World Games is that law enforcement officers from all around the world will gather before the world competitions.

It may seem like beating on a dead horse, but we’ve discussed at length just how much the Special Olympics have grown over time and other matters of the sort. As previously mentioned, the LETR was created in 1981. It all came from the idea of a Wichita, Kansas Police Chief. Richard LaMunyon saw it as a way to raise awareness and get involved with the Special Olympics and it has taken off from there. Speaking of growth and development, when I was reading some information regarding the Law Enforcement Torch Run, there was a particular quote that really stuck with me that perhaps best sums up the boom of the LETR over time. “What started as a flicker, thirty-two years ago, has grown into a roaring flame of support and stability for Special Olympics athletes worldwide” (Special Olympics). That quote to me truly signifies just how much the LETR has grown in the time since its inception and will continue to raise more and more money, along with attracting volunteers for the Special Olympics.

http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Donate/Special_Olympics_Torch_Run.aspx

http://www.specialolympics.org/Video3.aspx?id=19953

-Joe Fitzhenry

Time for a Change

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a video pertaining to attitudes of the disabled and was extremely inspired. Today I am not only posting the video but am also writing a short piece to make sure people understand the message that lies within. Francesca Martinez is a writer, actress and comedian living with cerebral palsy who has shown that having a disability does not mean that you cannot be successful. While I hate to say it, I think it is relatively common for abled bodied individuals to have a quick laugh or giggle at someone who is disabled. I firmly believe the reason that this happens is not because we actually think it is funny but because it is a defense mechanism to make ourselves feel comfortable. I commend Francesca because I think her understanding and acceptance of this point has really helped her career. Rather than let people make her upset for her disability, she is able to laugh at herself and find a little humor in a situation that most individuals are rightfully sensitive about.

One quote that stood out during this video was when Francesca said, “My biggest fear was being pitied”. When I think about the Paralympics I think this is one element that almost every athlete competing can agree on. The Paralympics is an intensive athletic event that requires all athletes to undergo serious training and practice. I think the last thing any of the athletes would want would be to have people look at them and say “Wow, it is a real shame they have a disability”. The athletes want to be appreciated not for their handicap but for what they are able to accomplish in their specific sport. We all admire the winning streaks of Tiger Woods or the highlight real dunks by LeBron James so why shouldn’t we be impressed with Paralympians. If people sat down and really read about or watched videos they would be absolutely mesmerized by the skill and level of competition that exists.

Another point of this video that I feel is important to mention is what we define as “normal”. Every single person on this planet is raised in a way that is slightly different then the neighbor next door or person half way around the world. At the end of the day we all have lives where what is normal changes for everyone. Just as Francesca mentioned, normal for her is living with cerebral palsy and earning money by making people laugh with her incredible attitude. I think far too often we fail to think that people with disabilities do not wake up every day and realize that they are any different from a majority of us. Just as people get used to using crutches or putting contacts in, the athletes in the Paralympics become accustomed to their disabilities and develop their own unique routines for their own normal lives. I can only hope that people like Francesca can help change the perceptions about the disabled and that Sochi 2014 can help gain major positive support for all of the athletes!

By:Erika Schmid

Special Olympics Event at Marist

Special Olympics setup

Last Friday we were lucky enough to have Teresa Gilli of the Special Olympics New York-Hudson Valley Chapter post as a guest blogger on here. She was promoting a Special Olympics event that took place at Marist following the conclusion of the men’s basketball game against Elon University last Sunday. I was able to attend the event and came away really impressed with the various stations that were set up for raffle prizes, food and a Relay for Life table as well. The event was also a part of the capping project of fellow seniors, Melissa Meehan and Meghan Massaroni.

With that being said, speaking with Ms. Gilli was really what allowed me to see the Special Olympics from a fresh perspective of sorts after blogging about it on a weekly basis dating back to mid-September. It was refreshing to see and talk to someone who is so passionate about what they do. It was readily apparent from talking to her that Ms. Gilli feels very strongly about the Special Olympics and cares deeply about them and the athletes who participate in the various competitions that are held. She stood just outside the gym doors holding up a sign in an effort to promote the event that was about to be taking place. Her charisma and energy level really stood out with a constant smile on her face despite hundreds of people just walking by and not really paying much attention. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the chance getting to speak with Ms.Gilli and it allowed me to view the Special Olympics from someone who is so passionate about the games.

Here are some pictures from the event, be sure to take a look!

-Joe Fitzhenry

The food!

Food-SO Event

 

The DJ Table

DJ Table

 

Raffle tickets

Raffle Table

 

Myself, Rob King and Geoff Magliocchetti

Me, Rob, Geoff

 

Marist College Dance team showing their support!

MCDT

Meaning Behind the Mascot

This week I wanted to take some time to discuss mascots. In sports we often refer to the mascot as a figure who represents the ultimate fan or symbol of a franchise. We all love Mr.Met, the Phillie Phanatic and Big Al the elephant from Alabama but what do they really stand for other than a sports icon? The truth is they are all just an image that plays into our favorite sports team, and there is nothing wrong with it! Mascots are a great way to add a little fictitious fun to a game and increase interaction with the fans. One thing that I absolutely love about the Paralympics is that their mascots go beyond appearance and incorporate real experiences into their characters. Below I have provided a little background story on the Sochi 2014 mascots Snowflake and Ray of Light.

The background for each of these characters is that both landed on Earth from two different planets. Throughout their journeys Snowflake and Ray of Light each encountered their own set of challenges that they had to overcome to get to where they wanted to be. Upon landing each found themselves in an unfamiliar place where they not only looked different but were accustomed to different ways of life. Ray of Light landed first and felt uncomfortable and distant from the others around him. After his initial fear subsided he slowly interacted with others and was able to make a lot of new friends who showed him about life on Earth. He soon realized that once he showed others who he was on the inside that he was not all that different after all. Ray of Light took Snowflake under his wing when she arrived and the two loved the new sports they were introduced to in their new home. To make their own mark, Ray of Light and Snowflake got creative and devised their own sports that they shared with the others.

Now some of you may have thought the above paragraph was childish but take a moment to think about the message that was sent. Two people managed to excel in an environment that was foreign to them and find a way to make an impact on the lives of other people. They demonstrated that everyone has their own innate talents that make them unique and contribute to their own success. While the journey to get to where they landed was difficult, they both managed to find a way to persevere and make the most out of their new opportunity. Part of this story focuses on the fact that we tend to judge or label people based on their appearance. Just because somebody does not look like us does not mean that they see anything differently than us or feel any less. The Paralympics are a perfect example of this message because while the athletes may have handicaps, they want to be treated just like everybody else. Each and every athlete has their own personal story about how they overcame the challenge they were dealt and managed to turn it into something extraordinary.

 

Enjoy the following video in honor of the Mascots !

By: Erika Schmid

Marist Men’s Basketball KIckoff Party to benefit Special Olympics NY – Hudson Valley Region on Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hello everyone!

My name is Teresa Gilli and I am the Director of Development for Special Olympics NY – Hudson Valley Region.  I am responsible for raising the necessary funds to keep our mission alive!  What is the Special Olympics mission? The mission of Special Olympics is:

To provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-style sports for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of skills and friendship with their families, Special Olympics athletes and the community. Through their participation in Special Olympics New York athletes gain confidence and build a positive self-image, which carries into the classroom, the home, the workplace and the community.

We currently serve over 3,500 Athletes in the Hudson Valley Region alone.  In the state of NY, we currently have over 61,000 Athletes and growing!  This is just FANTASTIC!

When I was approached by seniors, Melissa Meehan and Meghan Massaroni that for the Capstone Project, they wanted to do a fundraiser for Special Olympics NY – Hudson Valley Region, I was thrilled and honored.  We sat down, had a great lunch, and they came up with a plan.  They did their homework then proceeded to setup a date, setup a location, make appointments, visit local businesses, made phone calls, and so much more!,  After their hard work, I am pleased to announce that the fundraiser event is a Party and his being held this coming Sunday, November 10, 2013!  The fundraiser party is right after the Marist Men’s Basketball Game, Marist vs. Elon (Game starts at 5PM and you can purchase tickets to the GAME by going to http://www.goredfoxes.com and then clicking on tickets).  The fundraiser party will be held at the McCann Center, Grey Gym, starting at 7PM, right after the basketball game.  Party Admission is $10 for Adults and $5 for Students (accept all major credits cards, checks or cash).  This party is for ALL AGES and families are encouraged to attend.  We will have food, games, DJ, other entertainment and so much more. Melissa and Meghan didn’t stop with this fundraiser party.  They also worked on something else that was very exciting.  This past Wednesday, November 6, 2013, they had Applebee’s give 10% of all proceeds to Special Olympics NY – Hudson Valley Region when they presented a coupon during their meal.  Amazing!

Melissa and Meghan should be commended for all of their hard work and dedication.  I cannot wait till Sunday and look forward to a fun-filled evening!  The best part, is 100% of all proceeds raised at the party go to our Athletes.  Also, all donations are 100% tax deductible.  It cannot get better than this!

I also want to thank Joe Fitzhenry and Erika Schmid for letting me post on this blog.  They should also be commended for setting up this blog for Special Olympics and the Paralympics for their Capstone Project!  It helps in so many ways, including helping us “spread the word”.  Just love seeing the comaraderie, caring, support and dedication from the wonderful students of Marist.  What they do for the Non-Profits in our area, like Special Olympics is priceless!

For those who cannot make the fundraiser party this Sunday and would like to support Special Olympics, we would be honored.  You can mail a check made out to Special Olympics NY to

Special Olympics NY, Attention, Teresa Gilli, 1207 Route 9, Suite 1C, Wappingers Falls, NY  12590 (tgilli@nyso.org)

If you prefer to donate by Credit Card, then please call our office 845-765-2497 between 9AM – 5PM.  Remember, all donations are 100% tax deductible.

From the bottom of our Athletes’ hearts, thank you for supporting Special Olympics NY!  Look forward to seeing you ALL on Sunday!

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We have a regional facebook page that is updated on daily basis.  So, please stop by when you get a chance!

http://www.facebook.com/SONYHV

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Here is the flyer the talented ladies put together for this Sunday:

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Enjoy the photos!

Below is a photo of one of our Athletes at our Spring Games west at West Point held every year in the Spring!

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Here is a photo of one of our Athletes, Jermain Edie, who got to meet Will Smith while heading to World Games!

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Here are some photos from our Young Athlete Programs:

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The best part of my job – to see the Athlete’s face after they won a medal:

ATHLETE OATH:  “Let me win, but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

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Here are some random photos of our Athletes:

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IMG_9358  untitled

Love from an Athlete Ann Hertel with Ricky Miller

Andrew, Will, Jon, Tim, Chris and Nick  Plenty of PEP

Finally, here is a video I LOVE to share!  It’s FANTASTIC!

Unified Flag Football: Tuscaloosa Style

The eyes of the college football world will be on Tuscaloosa, AL Saturday night. More specifically, those eyes will be fixed on Bryant-Denny Stadium as the two-time defending National Champion #1 Alabama Crimson Tide take on the rival #13 LSU Tigers, a team that is built to and has given the Crimson Tide problems in recent seasons. The game is being televised nationally on CBS and is sure to draw a large audience given the potential implications on the SEC and BCS races. Few games on the schedule capture the amount of attention that Alabama-LSU does, over the last five years in particular. Each team is a perennial powerhouse nationally, features two of the game’s best minds in Nick Saban (Alabama) and Les Miles (LSU) along with a number of players that will soon be spending their time playing on Sunday afternoons.

However, there is a certain other event taking place in Tuscaloosa on Saturday that is not garnering nearly as much attention or publicity. That said event is a unified game of flag football featuring students from both Alabama and LSU as well as Special Olympic athletes from the Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge areas. College football is king in the south and for those Special Olympic athletes that have grown up surrounded by Saturday afternoon SEC football and tailgate parties, but never got to play the real thing, this could be a dream come true to do so on the campus of the favorite team of the Special Olympic participants from Tuscaloosa. No disrespect to Auburn, but if you live in or around Tuscaloosa, I’m not sure it’s acceptable to say anything other than “Roll Tide”, as cringe worthy as it may sound (Sorry, still a little bitter about Notre Dame’s loss to those same Crimson Tide in the national title game last season). Anyways, back to the task at hand and the amazing opportunity that is there for the taking for Special Olympic athletes in the surrounding area of both schools. It’s going to be a big deal too, the Special Olympic participants will get a taste of what it’s like to play in front of a large crowd. Alabama governor Robert Bentley along with members of the Million Dollar Band are expected to be on hand for the Unified Flag Football game as well as about 1,000 or so other spectators.

The game will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Alabama recreation center. It will be early on a Saturday morning, but the atmosphere will feel like anything but. A lot of these Special Olympic athlete have probably grown up watching sports and in particular, their favorite players and team giving it their all in front of roaring crowds. This may sound cliche, but these type of stories are why we love sports. 50 years ago, perhaps even 40, the concept of college students taking the same field and playing on the same teams as Special Olympic athlete was nothing more than a mere afterthought and many would have immediately dismissed it upon hearing the idea. Saturday should be a special day in more ways than one as the Special Olympic participants take to the field alongside people who they can look up to as role models, as a guiding light and above all else, as a friend.

http://uanews.ua.edu/2013/11/lsu-vs-alabama-special-olympics-unified-sports-flag-football-game-set-for-saturday/

-Joe Fitzhenry

Coming in Hot, They Just Won’t Stop !

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Last week was all about the rivalry but this week puts a little focus on athletes to keep an eye out for in Sochi. The Paralympians that compete are a combination of athletes of all different ages, backgrounds and skill sets. Today I will highlight two accomplished stars that have not even put a dent in their young athletic careers and one very decorated woman who proves that age is just a number.

To go back to my German background a rising star over recent years is Andrea Rothfuss. At the age of just 24, Rothfuss has recently broken out as a major threat in Paralympic Alpine skiing. She competes in the Paralympic division for athletes who have an upper body disability such as paralysis, cerebral palsy or any kind of motor skill issue. In just her first Paralympic games in Vancouver the German took home the silver in the giant slalom race to make her first of many appearances on the podium. What I found incredible about Andrea’s story is the drastic improvement she was able to make in less than a year. When the International Paralympic Championships (IPC) took place in 2011, Andrea took gold in the slalom and downhill slalom in addition to three other medals of silver and bronze. In Sochi, Andrea looks to get revenge on Marie Bochet of France who was able to out ski her this year at the IPC event where she swept the stage with gold medals.

One athlete that I am extremely honored to discuss is Steve Cash of the United States of America. While he has an amazing athletic resume at the age of 24, I really admired his dedication to pursing his degree in business. After my previous interview with Nick Springer, I felt that the sport of Ice Sledge Hockey deserved to have one of their stars featured on our blog. As an amputee, Cash was determined to maintain his competitive spirit as he has been a part of this team since the age of 15! Cash joined Jeremy Campbell (who we have all discussed before), as an ESPY award winner for best male athlete with a disability. After his performance in the 2010 Vancouver games, Cash was certainly deserving of the award where he set a Paralympic record by stopping every shot he faced in five games to lead team U.S.A. to a gold medal. At the 2013 IPC event the team fell short taking silver after they had won gold just the year before. There is no doubt that Cash should be at the top of this game come Sochi to be the leading man behind the mask and bring home another gold.

The phrase “O to be young again…” has absolutely nothing on Sonja Gaudet of Canada. This 47 year old wife and mother has not let her age or wheelchair stop her from excelling. As an athlete who competed in just about every sport throughout her life, Sonja found a deep passion for wheelchair curling. Sonja recently took home the gold in the World Wheelchair Curling Championships for 2013 and looks to take home her third straight gold medal at the games in Sochi. Curling is extremely popular in Canada and Sonja was announced the first wheelchair athlete from her country to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to train and excel at the level that Sonja does and still manage to run a household!

I truly commend each one of these athletes for their individual accomplishments and am very excited to see how they do in Sochi 2014!

By: Erika Schmid

50 Years Later

October 24 marked the 50 year anniversary of President Kennedy signing the first major piece of legislation for those with intellectual disabilities. A month or so back, I wrote a post on the fourth annual day held in the honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the president’s sister who was one of the chief advocates for the bill. If you recall (https://kathyscapping1.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/a-special-olympics-pioneer/), Shriver was the primary driving force behind the eventual creation of the Special Olympics Inc., in 1968. With that being said, what most people may not remember is the series of landmark events that led to the formation of the Special Olympics organization as a whole.

On October 24, 1963, the 35th president of our country signed a document titled the following: “The Maternal Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment to the Social Security Act”. Little did people know at the time that this would serve as the first true stepping stone to the worldwide presence of the Special Olympics today. As stated earlier, it was the first piece of legislation that directly addressed mental retardation and mental illness. The legislation provided grants of money to various states in order for them to be able to upgrade their programs for those with intellectual disabilities. Just a week later, President Kennedy signed a second bill that provided funds to be used for the construction of facilities that were to serve the purpose of taking care of and ensuring fair treatment of people with intellectual disabilities.

Looking back, it is truly hard to believe how far the Special Olympics organization has come in just a half century’s worth of time. There have been a handful of posts up to this point where I have discussed the fact that the Special Olympics is now present in over 220 countries. Furthermore, the Special Olympics features more than 4.2 million athletes with intellectual disabilities worldwide. Those numbers alone should speak to not only how far it has come since 1963, but also to the long-standing impact of the pieces of legislation that were signed by President Kennedy.

http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/What_We_Do/Out_of_the_Shadows__Events_Leading_to_the_Founding_of_Special_Olympics.aspx

-Joe Fitzhenry

New Special Olympics CEO Interacts with Colleagues and Athletes

Up to this point, we’ve talked at great length about the unity of the Special Olympics and how sports have a way of bringing everyone together with open arms. Company softball games, social gatherings etc. are all commonplace in our world, but how often does the new CEO of a major organization such as the Special Olympics take time out of their already hectic day to interact with colleagues and a number of the athletes from the Special Olympics District of Columbia region? Well, folks, that’s precisely what happened on October 21 as Janet Froetscher, the newest CEO of the Special Olympics shot some hoops and ran relays with the afore-mentioned others last Monday in our nation’s capital.

To give you some background on where the newest CEO hails from, Froetscher was recently named the new CEO of the Special Olympics after years spent as the president and CEO of the National Security Council. Prior to that, she led the Metropolitan Chicago division of the United Way. During her time with the United Way, Froetscher played a key role in the merging of 54 separate United Ways into a single entity. Previous CEO Dr. Timothy P. Shriver will retain his Chairman of the Board position that he has held since 2003.

The way the day worked was that the roughly 100 officials and athletes on hand were split into teams that featured a mix of those that have intellectual disabilities and those that don’t. The chief objective for the participants was to shoot a basketball at a square white target and grab the rebound in order to record points for the individual to score points for his/her respective team. To me, the fact that Froetscher in her first day on the job took her time to compete, speak with and pose for pictures with the athletes really stuck out to me as what the Special Olympics are all about. As previously mentioned, I’ve discussed how important unity is for the Special Olympic organization and perhaps, there is no better way to show it than to have the new CEO participate in sports with and get to know the athletes and officials that all help make the organization run smoothly and allow it to grow as much as it has over the course of time. The day’s activities brought everyone together and signified the happiness and joy that can result from playing sports. For a day, the office work and other daily tasks were put on hold.

http://www.specialolympics.org/News_and_Stories/Stories2013/Janet_Froetscher_is_New_Special_Olympics_CEO.aspx

-Joe Fitzhenry

 

 

Rivalry Week.

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This week is all about the rivalry. We have all been there at some point. Whether it was in school, work, or sport, there always seems to be that one person right on our heels trying to take what we have worked so hard to accomplish. The Yankees versus the Red Sox, Duke Blue Devils versus the North Carolina Tar Heels, and Lebron James versus Kobe Bryant are just a few rivalries that have surrounded us, but what about Jeremy Campbell versus Dan Greaves or Mandy Francois-Elie versus Johanna Benson? Even though we still have a few years to go until Rio, it is time to start getting familiar with these Paralympic battles that will take stage come 2016.

The U.S.A and Great Britain have a long history, and why should it be any different when it comes to Paralympic sports. Jeremy Campbell of the U.S. and Dan Greaves of Great Britain are a recent rivalry in discus. The two athletes are both amputees that have battled each other out for podium spots and each have earned major accomplishments in their sport. Greaves has been involved in the sport for over fourteen years and has been a dominant athlete in discus. In fact, in 2011 he set the world record at the International Paralympic Championship in New Zealand. To add to his resume, Greaves has also won gold in the 2004 Athens Paralympic games, bronze in 2008 in Beijing and just recently won a silver medal in London.

Beijing and London were both great achievements for Greaves but there was one major roadblock in winning gold for each of these games. Jeremy Campbell. Campbell was the man standing on the podium for the gold in Beijing and London over Greaves. He also broke the record Greaves set in 2011 by setting the record at 60.19 meters and shattering his own person best with a throw of 63.45 meters just months later. The athletic prowess of Campbell led him to an ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly award) as the 2013 best male athlete with a disability. Campbell seems to have taken Greaves out of the limelight a little bit in recent years but there is no doubt that Rio 2016 will be the perfect stage for yet another battle between the two high profile athletes.

Two young women recently sparked the beginning of a rivalry in the 2012 London Paralympic games. Mandy Franocois of France who is just 24 years of age and 22 year old Johanna Benson of Nambia have created some excitement in the 100 and 200 meter dash. The two athletes compete in the cerebral palsy division of the Paralympics and have become the two favorites in the sport. Francois-Elie made a name for herself in the International Paralympic Championships when she took the gold among her home crowd in France for the 200 meter dash. She even set the world record in her qualifying run with a time of 23.37 seconds. When the London games rolled around Francois- Elie maintained her dominance and sprinted to the finish line to take gold in the 100 meter dash.

Johanna Benson was not going to let Francois-Elie dominate in London. After receiving silver in the 100 meter dash to Francois-Elie, Benson knew she still had room for improvement and an opportunity to leave London with gold. The 200 meter dash was her only other opportunity and she certainly got her revenge by winning gold over her new rival. Since her recent success Benson has become an iconic figure in Nambia and even started her own foundation to help ensure and motivate disabled people to compete at high levels in sport. These two women will certainly hit the ground running in Rio and be the two to look out for in the race for gold.

By: Erika Schmid

To check out more rivalries amongst the Paralympians check out: http://www.paralympic.org/news/lyon-2013-five-rivalries-watch