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

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

A True Inspiration

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My post for this week is nothing shy of an absolute honor. I had the privilege to speak with U.S.A Paralympic rugby player Nick Springer. Before even sharing a little bit about his story, I can easily say that Nick emulates everything a role model should be and more. After conducting a brief interview, I do not think there is a single person that cannot learn a lesson from Nick; he is a fighter, he is determined, and he is a true inspiration to all.

For anyone who is unaware, meningitis is a dangerous bacterial infection that moves rapidly, covering areas around the brain and spinal cord. At the age of just fourteen Nick suffered from this disease while he was away at summer camp. To show just how fast paced this disease actually is, Nick collapsed on the floor the following morning with difficulty breathing, had pain throughout his entire body and entered a coma within an hour. Nick’s coma lasted over two months, during which he had both of his arms amputated from his forearm as well as both legs from the knee. He conquered his 10% chance at survival and has not looked back since.

Nick is a huge sports fan and always was; growing up he tried baseball and football but one sport in particular just clicked- Hockey. He even had plans to attend the all-male Archbishop Stepinac high school in White Plains, NY where he was expected to be a starter. Given everything Nick had faced at an early age, it would be easy to see how sports may no longer be his priority, but that was far from the case.

Rather than focus on the change his life was about to take, Nick embraced it. As Nick said in our interview, “I remember the first time I set foot on the ice, I just wanted to get back to my normal life.” With an army of support from both family and friends, he knew he was never going to be alone and failing would not happen. Nick was always an athlete and was not willing to let the change in his physical appearance prevent him from being the athlete inside him or who he was as a person.

To begin his new athletic start Nick dove right in to his hockey roots and gave the sport sled hockey a go for a few years. While he enjoyed the feeling of “the ice beneath him and smell of the stadium” as he put it, a teammate of his recommended that Nick take a go at wheelchair rugby. At the age of 17 and a senior in high school, Nick was a dual sport athlete for a few years but had to make a decision. Nick said, “I will always, always be a hockey player at heart”, but he had a future in Paralympic Rugby and made the switch.

A future was an understatement when describing his potential in Rugby. Since beginning the sport Nick has become a gold medalist in Beijing, 2012 bronze medalist, 8 time national champion and 2008 player of the year in the U.S. Quad Rugby Association (USQRA).  Recently Nick has taken a temporary leave from rugby but he plans to start attending some try outs this summer. When asked about one of his favorites moments Nick said, “winning the gold in Beijing was up there, it was awesome. But he probably has over 100 memories whether in sports or helping others that equally compare”. Aside from being part of a team, Nick loves rugby for the opportunities that it has created for him.

The sport has given him the chance to travel the world both as an athlete and meningitis advocate to spread awareness. As mentioned earlier meningitis is life threatening but there is a vaccine available to help prevent people from getting it. Nick travels all over the world to share his experience and knowledge and is currently trying to break into Africa to help yet another group of people. All of the effort Nick has put in to helping The National Meningitis Association and spread awareness is making rapid progress and he has people from all over the world interested in working with him to help send the message. Despite all that Nick has endured he said, “Everything gets back to normal, you have a future. The only thing that’s important is the fact that you survived”.

I would like to send out a thank you to Nick for taking the time to speak with me about his experience and amazing efforts all over the world.  PLEASE remember that meningitis IS extremely dangerous, and is not something that should be taken lightly. There IS a vaccine available so do not take the risk!

For more information please check out the National Meningitis Association website:  http://www.nmaus.org/

Help us spread Nick’s story and achievements by following us @Spiritinmotion3 on Twitter or our Facebook Page Spirit in Motion, Be brave in the attempt!