People with newly-acquired physical disabilities are often informed that their lives are over and they won’t be able to do anything now. Para-athletes are living testimony to the fact that this claim is a load of hooey. For those struggling to adapt to disabilities, there’s limited information available on adaptive sports and the myriad of options that lie ahead of them, so many aren’t aware that some of the world’s best athletes are disabled.
That’s bad news for people who might decide to give up on their dreams if they think they aren’t realistic, when in fact, the world of adaptive sports is lively and diverse. Disabled children in particular can be vulnerable to the belief that their lives are “over” because they’re disabled, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s a list of para-athletes from around the world you might want to keep your eye on:
1. Tatyana McFadden
You might recognize this wheelchair athlete: she just won the Boston and London Marathons within the space of a single week. Adopted from Russia, McFadden has lower-limb paralysis as a result of spina bifida. She experienced considerable discrimination in U.S. schools as she fought for the right to compete, highlighting the common belief that disabled people can’t or don’t do sports, and is a growing star on the para-athletics stage.
2. Oksana Masters
A Paralympic rower who took home the first U.S. medal in trunk and arms mixed double sculls in 2012, Masters is a double amputee. She started to pursue adaptive rowing when she was 13, and kept up her interest in the sport to become an international star. She’s an unstoppable force on the water despite the fact that she has a weight disadvantage, and I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing her again in the 2016 Paralympic Games.
3. Tanni Grey-Thompson
Another wheelchair athlete, Tanni hails from Wales. Like McFadden, she was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair for mobility. While she’s now retired from racing, her career was extraordinarily successful (she probably needs a spare room for all her gold medals, including a number of Paralympic medals), and she continues to work as a television presenter as well as a member of parliament; clearly she didn’t want to get bored in retirement.
4. Rebecca Hart
This para-equestrian means business, and she’s competed in multiple Paralympics. As if being an accomplished horsewoman wasn’t enough, she also likes hiking, rock climbing and sailing. Familial spastic paraplegia may require some adaptations for her to participate in the sports she loves, but it doesn’t mean she’s barred from an active life.
5. Bethany Hamilton
From a young age, Hamilton knew she wanted to spend as much time as possible in the water, and that’s exactly what she did, becoming an accomplished professional surfer before the age of 13. When she lost her arm in a shark attack, a lot of people assumed her career was over — but a month later, she was paddling out again. She continues to win national championships and other events.
Photo credit: Julian Mason.
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