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

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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

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

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