Let the Paralympic Games Begin!


By Debbie Gregory.

The competition in Sochi is not over yet. From March 7-16, the  Paralympic games will be held in Sochi. In order to compete in the Paralympics, athletes must have one of the following disabilities: Amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, confinement to a wheelchair, blindness, or Les Autres (“other” disabilities that include: dwarfism, multiple sclerosis, and certain congenital disorders).

Paralympic athletes can compete in Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross-country Skiing, Wheelchair Curling and Sledge (Sled) Hockey. The games are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which has an arrangement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that guarantees host nations of winter and summer Olympic Games will also host the Paralympic Games for that olympiad.

There are 45 countries sending approximately 700 athletes to participate in the games at Sochi. The United States will be sending 74 athletes to compete in the games. Serving as part of Team USA are eighteen service members and wounded Veterans.

Unfortunately, the Paralympics are being overshadowed by the tensions in the Ukraine and subsequent Russian military involvement. On March 3rd , President Obama stated a presidential delegation will not be sent to Sochi with the Paralympic athletes. But the president is not, for the moment, trying to prevent Team USA from competing.

In an official statement, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “In addition to other measures we are taking in response to the situation in Ukraine, the United States will no longer send a Presidential Delegation to the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi. President Obama continues to strongly support all of the U.S. athletes who will participate in the Paralympics and wishes them great success in the Olympic competition.”

The U.S. is not the only government boycotting the Paralympics in Sochi. The British and Canadian governments are taking similar stances. As long as the athletes are not in danger, the games will go on.

International games, including the Olympics and Paralympics, are supposed to transcend world politics and exist as a means of human connection through athletic competition. So, in the spirit of international competition, let’s hope that the Paralympic Games proceed, and that all athletes participate, if it is safe and permissible to do so. Let these Paralympic athletes serve as ambassadors for their countries, promoting goodwill and tolerance. And let them set the example for their respective governments, showing that while their countries can have economic, military and ideological rivalries, they can set their differences aside for a moment of bonding through sport.

Come March 7th , be sure to support Team USA and all Paralympians. Visit the official website of the 2014 Paralympic games, and also check out the web portal for the VA’s adaptive sports programs.