Here at National Ramp, we have been very excited for the Paralympics, waiting for the rescheduled event to kick off in late August. We’ve been following the trials and celebrating the rosters. While we have also been cheering on Team USA during the Olympics, there’s something extra special about the Paralympics, and it’s not just because we love seeing wheelchair ramps.
While Olympians have many inspiring stories of triumphs, setbacks, and family histories, most athletes have been in training for these events from the time they were very little, with many similar stories and themes. By contrast, Paralympians show us a tremendous amount of diversity, yes, in their different levels and types of disability and their backgrounds. Paralympians often show us not just what the human body is capable of but how to adapt and overcome.
Some Paralympians were born with a disease or congenital issue, like dwarfism, cerebral palsy, or spina bifida. Some Paralympians were born with limb differences or who became amputees further back than their memory can recall. There are cancer survivors, veterans injured in the line of duty, people who had an injury resulting in an SCI, and people who developed a disease that impacted their vision or mobility.
Paralympians are not “inspirational” just because they are disabled and existing in the world. They are inspirational because they show us the power of the human spirit, how to move forward in a new direction after a cataclysmic setback, and how you can find a new purpose in your life when the life you previously lived is no longer feasible.
When we cheer for Team USA at the Paralympics, we’ll be cheering for Army veteran Melissa Stockwell, a Para-triathlete (which is pretty exhausting just to type!) who was the first female to lose a limb in the Iraq war. We’ll be cheering for Haven Shephard, Jessica Long, and Tatyana McFadden, who were all internationally adopted by parents who knew of their respective disabilities and encouraged them to participate in adaptive sports. We’ll be cheering for Justin Phongsavanh, who only started adaptive sports five years ago after being paralyzed in a shooting accident and broke the world record for javelin throw in his class during the trials. We’ll be cheering for Beatrice de Lavalette, who resumed her equestrian training six months after losing both of her lower legs in the 2016 Brussels Airport bombing.
And there will be more athletes whose stories we learn when we watch them jump, swim, race, throw, ride, shoot, and more. We’ll celebrate with those that make the podium while congratulating those who will leave the games with personal triumphs and not medals.
We’ll be cheering on the athletes not just for their physical accomplishments but because of what their perseverance, resilience, and drive means for all of us.
The Paralympians show us that we can do hard things despite setbacks. We can find new ways to navigate our lives after our bodies change. We can fight back against disease or accidents. We can meet new friends and find new skills well into adulthood. And we can show the amazing capabilities of the human body and mind on a world stage.
And the Paralympics themselves show us how enriching it is when we create spaces that accommodate those of all needs and abilities.