Let the Games Begin!

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With the 2014 Winter Paralympic games in Sochi Russia rapidly approaching, I think it is about time to start getting people excited for what to expect! To start out I think it is essential for everyone to be aware that this year the games will begin on March 7th and end on March 16th. There will be nearly 700 hundred Paralympic athletes competing over the nine days of competition and 72 sets of medals waiting to be earned.

While the Winter Paralympic games are not nearly as large as the Summer, they are still equally incredible to witness and stay informed on. The competitions are broken down into five categories including Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross Country Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey and Wheelchair curling. This year the games are anticipating the debut of snowboarding which will be under the alpine skiing category. I think the most impressive aspect about these games is the speed and balance that is involved in some of these sports. Watching people who have trained for weeks and months be able to accomplish such dangerous sports is something that I truly commend each and every one of these athletes for. A lot of people (including myself), are afraid when they ski or snowboard due to the speed they gain and feeling of losing control; when I watched these athletes in video there was no sign of fear , instead nothing but pure determination

The Olympic Park in Sochi is also representing a first. This park is the first one since the Paralympics and Olympics have co-existed where the facilities are the same for both groups. Sochi Olympic Park is the most compact park that has ever been built and was specifically designed to consider the needs for the disabled. I have previously discussed the need for there to be more equality for the Paralympics and I believe this is a great step in the right direction. The athletes competing not only get to enjoy the same facilities but now have the convenience of easier access and mobility throughout the park. I cannot speak on the Paralympians behalf, but I can only imagine what a difference it must make from a physical standpoint for everything to be just a little bit closer. Olympic Park will also be able to hold over 70,000 visitors at a time to first hand witness records being broken, historical moments and intense battles to get on the podium.

What has made Sochi so accessible is the split between venues being held between two clusters. There are both coastal and mountain venues that have been designated as the select areas for particular sports to take place. The coastal venue includes more level facilities such as an ice dome, arena, and curling center while the mountain venue will host all skiing , bobsled, and downhill sports. The two are only separated by roughly thirty minutes to make travel easier on all spectators and each contains an Olympic village of their own.

The Sochi 2014 games should be incredible from a sports perspective but I believe it is going to make a big mark for the Paralympics. I think this year’s winter games will be making a statement that the Paralympics deserve to be considered more in the process of putting the games together. At the end of the day these athletes are also representing their country and deserve to be treated with equal respect and consideration. We have less than five months to go before skiers hit the slopes and skaters hit the ice, be a part of history and start thinking about the 2014 Paralympic games in Sochi!

To check out some more information on Sochi 2014 check out the following link!

http://www.sochi2014.com/en/games/places/objects/sea/

AND

Be sure to check out some of the U.S. slope starts

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w04wU46XwRk

Erika Schmid

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The Engine Behind the Special Olympics

In my previous posts, we have talked about just how much the Special Olympics have grown over time and the amazing opportunity they have created for those who suffer from an intellectual disability. With that being said, the true size and for that matter, global reach of the Special Olympics didn’t really occur to me until now as I sit writing this post on the volunteers behind the Special Olympics. One of the main points made on the volunteer section on the website is that there are 220 locations worldwide where one can volunteer. Similar to how volunteers work for just about everything else, the Special Olympics may not be able to go on as planned if they didn’t have the volunteers that make everything go. As written in the title, they are the engine behind the Special Olympics.

The quote written at the top of the volunteers section really stuck with me “Volunteers are the backbone of the Special Olympics movement. They are coaches, trainers, officials, event organizers, fundraisers and managers. They can also be unified partners — playing alongside athletes with intellectual disabilities — or fans cheering in the stands.” (Special Olympics). Going off of what that quote says, the volunteers are of all ages and the level of commitment depends solely on the amount of the time the potential volunteers can give to the Special Olympics. You don’t have to do it forever, you can do it just for a morning or afternoon to see if you like it first. There is something for everyone to do based off of someone’s particular interests. Not to sound cliche, but every little bit of help will be appreciated.

One of the main reasons that the volunteers are so crucial to the Special Olympics organization is due to the fact that there are competitions going on around us everyday. While we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our own busy lives, somewhere in the world, a Special Olympics competition is being held. For something that was a mere afterthought just about 40 years ago to have been able to reach that level is nothing short of extraordinary. I stated it earlier in this post, but there are volunteer opportunities available in 220 countries! That’s more than the amount of countries in which McDonald’s has opened a location. To me, that made me truly realize just how big the Special Olympics are. McDonald’s is the one restaurant chain that people think of having in every country. The signature Golden Arch is recognized globally. There’s no true way to know for sure, but I think it’s safe to say that Eunice Kennedy Shriver never really fathomed the thought of having the Special Olympics take part on a daily basis in over 200 countries, all starting with the engine behind the Special Olympics.

http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Who_We_Are/Our_Volunteers.aspx

http://www.specialolympics.org/volunteers.aspx

-Joe Fitzhenry

References

“Special Olympics: Our Volunteers.” Special Olympics. N.p., 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Who_We_Are/Our_Volunteers.aspx&gt;.

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!

Sports Creates Opportunities For All-A Look at the Sports Played in the Special Olympics

Sports have a unique way of bringing together people from all walks of life and creating a bond between them that is often times unbreakable. Perhaps words can’t quite do it justice, but shared experiences in sports have a way of making a profound impact on people’s lives. For someone who may have a hard home life or just needs an escape from the pressures of our world, sports can represent that escape. At the end of the day, each and every person may have their own reason to play a sport, but one thing is for sure, it represents an opportunity for everyone. 

Prior to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, those with intellectual disabilities had no real way of competing in sports. Many of these same kids were treated unfairly and the thought of them competing in sports alongside those who didn’t suffer from an intellectual disability wasn’t taken too seriously. As described in last week’s post (https://kathyscapping1.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/a-special-olympics-pioneer/), Shriver played a key role in the development of the Special Olympics to become what they are today. Now a days, those with intellectual disabilities have the ability to participate in 32 Olympic Style, both individual and team sports that creates the equal opportunities for those with an intellectual disability. 

While I’d love to be able to take you through each of the 32 sports and the various nuances about each of them, that isn’t too realistic so we’ll take a look at a couple of them. Let’s start with Golf, a sport that is hard enough to begin with for those that don’t suffer from an intellectual disability. Trust me, my golf game leaves a lot to be desired, it’s not exactly a sight to behold. The version of golf that is held in the Special Olympics really only has a few slight differences in the rules of what you would see on Sunday at Augusta National. There is an individual skills competition, stroke play as well as unified and alternate shot team play competitions. Golf is a game that requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and a certain level of focus for a rather lengthy period of time. In 2011, there were 22,940 Special Olympic athletes that participated in one of the golf competitions listed above. As I sit at my desk writing this post, I want to be able to put into words how remarkable that truly is, but the only one that is coming to mind is amazing. The fact that those with an intellectual disability can still play and succeed in as challenging a game as golf is, is truly amazing. 

Let’s take a look at another sport that really opened my eyes to what a great job the Special Olympics do to open doors to those with an intellectual disability and give them a chance to participate in a sport they love. Somewhat similar to golf in terms of the level of difficulty, tennis is a sport that requires a great deal of athleticism as well as an ability to think on your feet as one tries to figure out their opponent’s next move or recognize his/her strengths and weaknesses. Singles, doubles (mixed and unified) and individual skills competitions are all available for those Special Olympic athletes who wish to channel their inner Rafael Nadal. Ever since it was added to the Special Olympic program in 1987, tennis has done nothing but grow exponentially, especially over the majority of the past decade. Participation in tennis has increased by 237% since 2004. 

As a whole, each of the 32 Special Olympic sports has their own unique features that can appeal to various people with intellectual disabilties. Maybe more so than anything, adding more and more sports has given people a chance to participate in a sport that was likely nothing more than a pipe dream for them at one point in time. Granted there are different levels of intellectual disabilities, but the fact that they can still find a way to play sports was so eye-opening for me as I sit here and learn more about it. To the casual observer, the sports that we are so accustomed to watching on television are usually not thought of as something that could be held in the Special Olympics.

If you want to learn more about the various sports and competitions held in the Special Olympics, be sure to check out the link below for an in-depth look at just how they work!

http://www.specialolympics.org/sports.aspx

-Joe Fitzhenry

A Much Needed Thank You

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164 countries, 4,237 athletes and 70,000 volunteers are just a few quick numbers from the 2012 London Paralympic Games. There is no doubt that the athletes are deservingly featured in the Paralympics but where would the games be without support? To have an athletic event of this magnitude be a success, there needs be a corporate backbone that is willing to step-up and standby the image that these special games represent. For this reason I think this week it is only appropriate to give a little thanks to some of the sponsors that help make the Paralympics happen; without their aid and generosity the competitive nature and talent that is present in these games may not be able to be displayed.

When people think of the Olympics and Partnerships a red can of Coca-Cola and big golden arch are two of the immediate images that probably come to mind. While their efforts are greatly appreciated, there are other companies who do not seem to receive as much attention who are equally as deserving for the Paralympics.

Ottobock…no not the popular “Otterbox” iPhone case, is one of the leading makers in prosthetics and orthotics in the world. To help highlight the talent of the athletes, they created an exhibit for the London games that showcased the supporting gear used by some of the Paralympians. This provided those without handicaps the opportunity to engage with some of the equipment and realize just how much strength is required to compete at this level. Ottobock was also present throughout the London games to provide their services to help fix any damage to wheelchairs and other aids.

Atos is another name to be mentioned as one of the top information technology companies. While our blog strives to help promote and gain awareness for the Paralympics, sometimes visuals can make an even larger impact- this is what Atos did. The company helped revamp the Paralympic website and create (SMART) Sport Media Application in Real Time. This allowed various Paralympic sports to be streamed online providing a combination of live look-ins, updates, statistics, and other relevant information. I think this reflects a large step for the Paralympics because partnerships such as these help create additional and convenient outlets for increased viewership.

Allianz is the final company I would like to touch on as a major financial service provider and partner to the Paralympics. Since technology has created more opportunities, it is an extremely useful resource to convey an important message to a large body of people in a fashionable manner. Allianz created video features and webisodes that featured Paralympic athletes and select sports. While the Paralympics largely prides itself on competition, I think it is extremely important for the human stories that lie within sport to get out there. In many cases the Paralympics and other sporting activities have provided an outlet and safe haven to those who are unfortunately handicapped. At the end of the day there is a bigger story to tell beyond what may be recorded as a win or a loss.

I would like to personally say thank you to each of these companies as well as all of the other partners of the Paralympics. The support you have given and continue to provide help these athletes excel to the highest level and help the movement to share what a lot of people fail to see about the Paralympics. More information about these companies can be found on the websites below:

http://atos.net/en-us/home.html

http://www.allianzusa.com/about/?utm_campaign=Brand+%7C+ALLIANZ&utm_source=google&utm_medium=ppc&utm_term=allianz

http://www.ottobockus.com/

–Erika Schmid

A Special Olympics Pioneer

A lot of what last week’s post talked about had to do with creating equal opportunity for those who suffered from some sort of intellectual disability. While not nearly as present now, there was a time when the intellectually disabled were treated terribly and in an unjust matter. The height of this movement occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s, most paying little attention to just how poorly this group of people was treated. That’s where it all changed when a certain someone noticed this and began to act on her vision right away. Many times it may seem like people have great ideas all the time, but they seemingly never come to fruition without taking the necessary course of action to act on your idea and beginning to implement it.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a true pioneer of the Special Olympics had a vision of equal opportunities being created for those who were intellectually impaired or disabled. She was deeply affected by the fact that not only were these children not treated the same as everyone else, but they didn’t even have a place to play. Shriver’s sister, Rosemary suffered from an intellectual disability and as stated earlier, didn’t have many options when it came to participating in sports among other things. Soon enough, she decided to act on her idea and held a summer day camp for children affected by intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. Shriver wasn’t interested in taking note of the limitations that these children had or the various obstacles they had to overcome, but instead trying to see what they were capable of doing not only in sports, but in a handful of other activities as well. More than anything, it presented these children with a place to play, an escape from the constant struggle of everyday life.

Shriver’s actions didn’t stop at the summer camp though as she became a force on the national scene, one of the primary players in the White House panel held by her brother, President John F. Kennedy on those with intellectual disabilities and assumed the role of director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. The foundation had been created in 1946 after Joseph, Shriver’s oldest brother had been killed in World War II. All three of the afore-mentioned events or happenings played key roles in helping the Special Olympics to be created and eventually become what it is today. Shriver herself was an athlete in college and through this, began to envision how sports had a way of bringing people from all walks of life together.

Following her death on August 11, 2009, many began to realize the true impact of Shriver’s actions. A decision was reached that something needed to be done to honor Shriver. This past Saturday, the 4th annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day was held, bringing together children, from all walks of life, some that are intellectually disabled and some that aren’t to participate in various sports and activities. The theme of the day was “Play Unified to Live Unified”. As I sit here and think about what it truly means, it becomes apparent that there is perhaps no better way to describe Shriver’s idea. Her whole vision started from a concept of allowing intellectually disabled children to participate in sports and other activities that they enjoyed while not feeling any sort of pressure from others. I think it’s safe to say that Shriver would be more than proud of what her actions have grown into, given not only the size of the Special Olympics and the number of participants but that the Day that honors her encompasses people from all walks of life, each with a unique story.

For more information on the extraordinary life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, be sure to check out the links listed below!

http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Who_We_Are/Eunice_Kennedy_Shriver.aspx

http://www.specialolympics.org/EKShriver2011_2min_CBSbio.aspx

-Joe Fitzhenry

Sports Like No Other

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Ever since I was a kid I was always the athlete drawn to the competition that sports have to offer (and pretty much every aspect about them). I think that anybody who knows me fairly well would have some story to tell about a particular practice, game or moment where I was completely caught up in a sport. Now when I say caught up I do not mean busy, I mean 110% engaged and committed to every little detail and play that was going on. As I sit at my desk writing this post, I can honestly say that even as a 21year old college student, sports are my escape. I have always said that sports are amazing. I could be the most stressed out student on campus thinking about everything I need to get done and within thirty seconds of playing intramural basketball, every little worry in the world is gone. This blog is by no means about me but seeing the determined faces of the Paralympic athletes exhausting themselves in competition in the videos I have watched brought all of these thoughts back and much more.

I think a lot of people who are born with handicaps simply rule sport out of the question due to fear, nerves, or doubt. The Paralympics serve as an inspiration of countless success stories of people who have not let their adversity stop them from pursuing a love or passion. There are now 21 summer sports comprised of over 500 events in the summer Paralympic games and 5 winter sports with 64 events. What I found to be incredible is how individuals with certain handicaps are able to make the sports they compete in come so easy and natural. Being able to play a sport at any level can be exhausting and these athletes are finding ways to excel in a manner that I do not think a lot of people are even aware of.

For instance, how many of you reading this would have ever said or thought that someone with a lower limb injury confined in a wheel chair could do the waltz, tango and rumba in the Paralympics? I for one really struggled to picture how this was possible but once again, I was wrong. Within seconds of watching I was overly impressed with the elegance, grace, and skill these athletes were able to show. Those who compete in wheelchair dancing can either dance with an able bodied partner or with someone else in a wheelchair. The sport is so beautiful to watch that pairs have even been featured on the hit Television show ‘Dancing with the Stars’.

There are so many sports to choose from but sitting volleyball was another Paralympic game that did nothing but leave me in awe. As a former volleyball player in high school I honestly could not image the sport possible without being able to jump or stand. In sitting volleyball there are six athletes on each side who must keep their pelvises on the ground at all times. While the net and court sizes are significantly lower, the athletes are still playing a best of five sets with each game to 25. Aside from these rules, the play of the game is astonishingly exactly like volleyball with sets, blocks and constant hustle. I was beyond shocked to see how fast these athletes were able to move on the floor to keep the play alive and witness the speed and power they hit the ball.

Even though many of the Paralympic games have names we are accustomed to, they are played like no other sport we have seen. The passion and intensity you witness combined with the sheer talent these athletes have is a site that everybody should view at some point. I was not able to discuss a lot of the incredible sports played so I can encourage all readers to PLEASE go on the International Paralympic website below to read and watch the accomplishments achieved by these athletes!

http://www.paralympic.org/Sports

http://www.paralympics.org.uk/paralympicsports/sitting-volleyball

http://www.disabled-world.com/sports/dancing.php

–Erika Schmid

A Fresh Perspective on the Special Olympics

Let’s take a second and think back to elementary school, middle school or even high school. There was always the kid that would be unfairly treated or in certain cases, made fun of because him/her was different from everyone else. There was no rhyme or reason for it, we’re all still people. The kids who had a given disability or disorder, whatever it may be often times couldn’t participate in sports like others could. Occasionally you would see someone against all odds, participating in a varsity sport. My high school had a disabled girl who was on the varsity cheerleading team, cheered at the basketball and football games and took part in competition just like everyone else. Those are the stories that warm everyone’s heart. With that being said, it’s not everyday that you’re going to see someone be able to compete at a varsity level in a given sport, it’s just not always feasible.

There once was a time where those who suffered from a disorder or had a certain disability were out of luck when it came to sports. That was until the Special Olympics have come into play and created opportunities for everyone. Since the first games were held in 1968, the Special Olympics have grown to include 4.2 million athletes in over 150 different countries. The athletes, all of whom have some sort of disability take part in the same sports that we have come to know and love in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. We all enjoy channeling those feelings of nationalism every four years while rooting on our fellow countrymen and women.

Similar to how the Olympics are conducted, the Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating between the winter and summer games. Those aren’t all it is though, the Special Olympics are held almost daily on a local basis and also feature various regional and national competitions. Take a second to think about it, there are those with disabilities who are out there competing in the sport or event they love each and every day. That alone takes a level of effort and dedication that some may not be able to truly comprehend what these athletes have to deal with a daily basis. It gives us a chance to sit back and truly appreciate everything we have in life, don’t take even the simplest things for granted.

Perhaps the mission statement posted on the Special Olympics website says it best as to how they can truly provide opportunities for anyone and everyone, both children and adults who are disabled in some way, shape or form. “The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community” (specialolympics.org). That quote really speaks to just how far the Special Olympics can go in changing the lives of various individuals. It provides them with a chance to compete in the sport they love, something that many of them may have once never thought possible.

Similar to what my partner, Erika Schmid posted earlier this week regarding the Paralympics, I am guilty as charged when it comes to thinking of what the Special Olympics are. Sure, I had heard the term but never really took the time to understand just what they can do for those with disabilities. I also didn’t realize that some form of the Special Olympics is held on a daily basis while we go through the constant movement of daily life. It’s well worth taking a few minutes to appreciate what these athletes are doing, fighting against all odds and overcoming various obstacles to compete in an Olympic sport.

-Joe Fitzhenry

My Initial Thought, Forever Changed-

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While I hate to admit it, my initial perceptions of the Paralympics were entirely based on the visible. I associated the organization with a naive combination of words that included wheelchair, prosthetic and handicap. I failed to see that the Paralympics represent an amazing event in the sporting industry unlike anything else I have seen before. The athletes who participate in over twenty different sports are overcoming adversity in categories that include but are not limited to mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy.

I think a lot of people do not understand that one of the most important elements of the Paralympics is competition. The athletes are presented with challenges but they want us to look past them and instead focus on the competitive spirit that is rooted in each and every one of them. They want to be seen as equals to non-disabled athletes who are known throughout the world and are role models to millions of kids. Those involved in the Paralympics are extraordinary athletes who are competing at a very high level and do not have the support they deserve.

The Paralympics has seen great growth since its creation in 1948 with new sports and more athletes due to an increase in competitive categories but by no means are they on equal footing with the Olympics. The accomplishments and records that have been set by these athletes represent achievements that hardly anyone has probably heard of. When taking this into account I cannot understand why there is hardly any television coverage and such a huge gap in funding compared to the Olympics.

Just as many people across the world, I love watching the Olympics but the lack of attention the Paralympics receives seems wrong. When looking at the adversity these athletes face I can only be amazed at the internal and external strength each one of them possesses. My initial thought about the Paralympics could not have been more wrong, and I am forever changed. If I were to go back I would replace my original three words with determination, strength and heart. I hope that this blog can spread awareness to help people realize just how incredible the Paralympics are and potentially assist the International Paralympic Committee in gaining support.

– Erika Schmid