*WARNING – This post is longer than normal. But I guarantee it is worth your time*
This week the 2012 Paralympics gets under way in London. The Paralympics, even more than the Olympics, showcases extraordinary tales of people overcoming adversity to achieve personal success.
Whether born with a defect, disabled from an accident or affected by an illness or disease, these everyday people have been through more emotionally and physically than most of us can even comprehend.
The Usain Bolt of the Paralympics, many view ‘bladerunner’ in a negative lights after he fought and battled through the courts to win his place in the 2012 Olympic Games. Leaving that debate aside, the story of Pistorius shows why it was unlikely he would give up on his dreams of competing in the Olympics.
Born in South Africa, without fibulas, Oscar’s parents had to deal with news that their 11-month son was going to have his lower legs amputated. Dealing with prosthetics, rehab, blisters and pain as a boy, Oscar still took up every sport he could.
He made a name for himself when playing a particular game of rugby at Pretoria Boys School. Tackled by an opposing players, Pistorius’ legs came off. Yes. His legs. Came off. Not deterred by this temporary amputation, Pistorius ran on his stumps, and made it over the line to score.
After losing his mother at 15, he would dedicate himself to running and go on to become the first amputee to compete in the Olympics. He comes into the Paralympics with 4 gold medals in his possession from previous Paralympic Games.
Wright is a 39-year old wife and mother of one that lives in London. Like many people following the 7/7 bombings of London, her life changed.
She was on a Circle line train that morning and following the blast, she lost her legs along with 80% of the blood in her body.
She credits Elizabeth Kenworthy, with saving her life after the off-duty police officer tied a makeshift tourniquet around her leg.
After a 10-day coma, Martine underwent 10 months of corrective surgery and decided her life would change. She quit her job as a marketing executive, learned to fly light aircraft in South Africa, qualifying in six weeks, took skiing lessons and project managed the rebuilding of the family home.
She began playing volleyball after visiting a try-out day in Stoke and will be competing for Team GB in the sitting volleyball event at this year’s Paralympics.
During a race in 2001 in Germany, Zanardi was gaining ground from the back of the grid. Following a pit stop he re-entered the race but abruptly skidded and spun out. Whilst one car was able to avoid Zanardi’s car, the one behind struck his car at force on the side.
Miraculously Zanardi survived, but lost both of his legs and nearly 75% of his blood volume.
Fitted with prosthetics he became frustrated as they did not allow him to race. So, he designed and built his own legs and began racing again in various cart and car races. In 2006, BMW Sauber invited Zanardi to race at their test facility in a Formula 1 car specifically designed with hand controls.
“Of course, I know that I won’t get a contract with the Formula One team, however having the chance to drive an F1 racer again is just incredible.”
In 2007, he began handcycling and in his 4th attempt he won the New York Marathon. He is tipped as one of the favourites in this year’s Paralympic handcycling road race.
McFadden was born in Russia in 1988, with an underdeveloped spinal cord resulting in paralyzation below the waist and a hole in her spine. As an unwanted, disabled child she was left for 6 weeks before doctors operated on her spine.
She spent the first 6 years of her life in various orphanages in Russia. Deborah McFadden, then an American government official, visited one such orphanage, immediately felt connected to Tatyana and brought her back to the US.
Deborah, now 54, spent four and a half years in a wheelchair, from ages 23 to 27. A freak virus shut her system down. Intensive therapy helped her to walk again.
Learning from that dedication, Tatyana has been making headlines since she was a teenager. As an activist arguing for equal access to school athletics for young people with disabilities, she also became the youngest member of the 2004 US Paralympic Team, winning a silver and bronze medal.
This year she will be competing in five track events at London’s Paralympics.
Matt Stutzman is an American archer born in 1982. In October, 2011, Matt set a new world record for longest shot by hitting a target located 230 yards away, beating the previous record by 14 yards. (Watch the video here)
Impressive? Yeah, that target was more than 650ft from him, outside and in the elements.
More impressive perhaps, is the fact that Matt, was born without arms.
Matt does everything with his feet. Everything: eat, drive a car, ride a motorcycle. There is no handicap sticker on Matt’s car, nor has his car been adapted for a person with no arms. He purposely challenges himself to do any and everything a “normal” person can do.
And this year, he brings his unique skills to London as part of the 2012 US Paralympic Archery Team.
Ordinary people, doing amazing things = Extraordinary. Take some time this month. Watch the Paralympics.