By Debbie Gregory.
Just like the traditional Olympic Games, the Paralympics highlight sportsmanship and the triumph of the human spirit through athletic competition. The athletes that participated in the two international competitions that took place in Sochi are ambassadors, who represent their countries by competing, but also through honoring and respecting their fellow competitors, regardless of what is happening between their countries.
As the 2014 Paralympic games closed in Sochi, Russia, the world surrounding these athletes is rapidly changing. The peninsula of Crimea voted to secede from the Ukraine in order to become a part of the Russian Federation, as Russian military forces were already occupying Crimea. The United States Government and the European Union have staunchly opposed Russia’s actions, and have deemed Crimea’s vote illegal. As the games began immediately after the Russian military occupied the region of Crimea, the governments of the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada, as well as a number of other countries chose to boycott Russia’s hosting of the Paralympic games and not send delegates to the games. But the athletes were still permitted to go, if they chose to. In the true spirit of sportsmanship, the games went on.
Among the numerous human triumphs at the games, Team USA Paralympic Athletes competed in what many felt would be a hostile environment. As a credit to the team and the mostly Russian spectators, the spirit of the triumph of the human spirit prevailed.
This was most notable in the gold medal Sledge (sled) Hockey Game that saw Team USA and Team Russia pitted against each other. Members of Team USA’s Sledge Hockey Team, many of them military Veterans, expected to get booed and taunted at Shayba Arena. But the fans in attendance were gracious, and cheered for both teams. They cheered even when retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Josh Sweeney, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan in 2009, scored the game’s only goal. The fans even cheered as Team USA was awarded their gold medals while the “Star Spangled Banner” played. The atmosphere in the arena and the support of the crowd for all the athletes embodied what international competition is supposed to be.
With eighteen medals, Team USA finished third overall at the Paralympic Games in Sochi. The two gold medals were won by the Sledge Hockey team, and by Evan Strong for Snowboard Cross. Team USA also won seven silver medals and nine bronze.
Congratulations to all Team USA Paralympic athletes, and to the Paralympians from all countries. We salute your passion to compete, which inspires people and reminds us all what the human spirit can accomplish. Your determination to compete through the current state of world politics should be seen as an example of our mutual humanity, despite where we live and our differences of opinion.