This year’s summer Olympics in Tokyo were nothing short of spectacular, bringing awe-inspiring athleticism and fierce competition together from all around the world. With the Olympics wrapped up, it’s now time to shift the focus toward the 4,400 athletes living with disabilities who will be participating in this summer’s Paralympic games.
The Paralympic games bring together athletes with physical, visual, and/or intellectual impairments to participate in nearly two dozen sports. To compete, athletes must be identified as having one of 10 recognized impairments, eight of which are physical, such as impaired muscle abilities due to conditions such as cerebral palsy.
Across a span of 13 days, athletes from all over the world will compete in a total of 539 events in 22 different sports from archery to powerlifting to wheelchair basketball. This year, two new sports have been added to the global competition: taekwondo and badminton.
Hosting the Paralympics in the same cities and venues as the Olympics is a tradition dating back to 1960, when the first Paralympic games took place in Rome, Italy.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games are set to begin on August 24 and will run through Labor Day Weekend, ending with the closing ceremony on September 5. More than 150 countries will be represented at this year’s games.
Team USA Athletes With Cerebral Palsy
All of the world-class athletes participating in this year’s Paralympic games deserve our collective support and recognition for facing and overcoming tremendous challenges when the odds were stacked against them.
The physical challenges faced by athletes who have cerebral palsy (CP), a type of birth injury caused by brain damage that leads to abnormal brain development, are many. The grit, determination, and will to overcome such challenges are truly inspiring. Cerebral palsy can affect one’s ability to move, as well as one’s balance and posture — it’s the most common motor-function disability among children.
Nearly 240 athletes will represent Team USA at the Paralympics this summer — including a number of athletes with cerebral palsy.
Some of these athletes include:
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Alexa was recruited to train for the Paralympics while at her local farmer’s market. Now Alexa is one of the Paralympics fiercest competitors, having earned two silver medals and one bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics when she was just 16-years-old.
Currently, Alexa attends the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studies communications and trains for track events. Watch for Alexa to participate in the sprint and middle-distance events as she eyes her first gold medal.
A discus thrower, Shahrad is an Iranian refugee who currently lives in Arizona. While Shahrad will not be participating on Team USA this summer, he will be representing the Refugee Paralympic Team, which debuted in the summer Paralympics held in Rio, Brazil in 2016.
Originally on the Iranian Team, Shahrad sought political asylum in the United States in 2015 while training to become a world-class discus thrower.
In an interview with WBUR, Shahrad said:
“We have to push our limits, we don’t need to think about it. If your mindset is ‘I cannot do that,’ or ‘this is my limit,’ you cannot progress much in your life.”
Shahrad’s ultimate goal is to gain U.S. citizenship and join Team USA for the 2024 Paralympic games, which will be held in Paris, France.
In 2017, Ixhelt Gonzalez made history when she became the youngest person ever to make the U.S. wheelchair basketball team at just 13-years-old. Now 17, Ixhelt recently helped Team USA finish 6th in the wheelchair basketball world championships, held in Germany.
Ixhelt was inspired to play wheelchair basketball from watching her brother compete. Ixhelt’s brother is a cerebral palsy athlete who also plays wheelchair basketball.
Look for Ixhlet to compete on the basketball court on Sept. 4, as Team USA hopes to take home the gold medal.
The Importance of Supporting Athletes of All Ability Levels
As you set out your calendar for the remainder of August through Labor Day, be sure to leave some time in your schedule to cheer on all Team USA athletes — for while the Olympics may have come to an end, the Paralympics are just beginning.
Once again, you can tune into this summer’s paralympics starting with the Opening Ceremony set to begin on August 24 at 7AM Eastern Standard Time (EST).
To see a complete schedule of the Parlympics sporting events, visit the official Olympics website.