The Paralympics began last week with an Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium featuring world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking and highlighting scientific advances including Newton’s discovery of the theory of relativity and the Higg’s Boson.
The games have not been without controversy and drama. A sell-out audience of 80,000 was silent in shock on Sunday after South African Oscar Pistorius suffered his first-ever defeat in the 200m, losing by 0.13 seconds to Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira of Brazil. Pistorius claimed that the winner’s prosthetic blades were too long.
One of the games’ major sponsors, information technology company Atos, has been engulfed in a controversy about disability tests that, many charge, have wrongly led to people with disabilities in the UK being deprived of benefits. Under Prime Minister David Cameron’s austerity reforms, disability benefits totaling in the billions of pounds could be cut. Disability advocates have noted that, outside of high-profile events like the Paralympics, individuals with disabilities are too often invisible and an afterthought.
Amid all this are the games themselves and, most of all, the athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities who are competing. Here are some of their stories.
(Athletes in the Paralympics are given a classification based on the extent to which an impairment gives them a competitive disadvantage; the Guardian has a complete guide to the classifications as well as some explanatory graphics.)
1. 20-year-old Hannah “Hurricane” Cockroft of Great Britain was told that she “would never be able to do anything [her] whole life and wouldn’t live past [her] teenage years.” She experienced two cardiac arrests during her birth, leaving her with brain damage and deformed legs and feet. Cockroft won the gold in the T34 100 meters before a sell-out crowd.
2. Another British athlete, 15-year-old Jessica Jane Applegate, has Asperger’s Syndrome and just had an operation on her left foot last month. The swimmer won the gold in the S14 200 meters on Sunday.
3. 32-year-old Derek Derenalagi lost both legs below the knees serving in the British army in Afghanistan and was declared dead until doctors detected a faint pulse. He did not make the finals in the F57/58 discus but still received a “hero’s welcome” from 80,000 fans.
4. 18-year-old Darragh McDonald of Ireland won a gold medal in the S6 400m freestyle. Born missing part of his right arm below the elbow and both legs below the knee, his father Derek McDonald told the Irish Times that “I never thought we’d be here [in the Paralympic final] when we started out 18 years ago.”
5. 6. British brothers Sam and Oliver Hynd — both have neuromuscular myopathy, a degenerative condition that severely weakens their leg muscles — took the silver and bronze in the S8 400 meter freestyle right under the eyes of their parents. As the Telegraph observes, “brotherly love won the day here.”
Photo by Vix_B
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