In the Spotlight
Veteran Athletes Win Big at 2012 Paralympics in London
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Olympians might be touted as the best athletes in the world, but nothing beats the physical prowess of Paralympians. Not only do Paralympians defeat their fellow competitors, they overcome their physical disabilities on their way to the podium. The London Paralympic Games ended on September 9, and this year's Team U.S.A. could not have made its fans prouder.
The Paralympics is the world's second largest major international multi-sport event. Athletes compete who have disabilities ranging from mobility restrictions, amputations, blindness to cerebral palsy. This year, 17 members of the U.S. Paralympic team were Veterans. Almost all of this year's Veteran Paralympians are involved in VA's National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events. The program hosts seven nationwide competitions or events each year. They also work directly with the U.S. Olympic Committee to establish community-based programs throughout the country. Together they fund and train Veterans capable of making the U.S. Paralympic team.
Many of these Veterans participate because of the sheer desire to win. At the same time, "adaptive sports are more than just competition for Veterans," says Chris Nowak, Director of the National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events. "They give disabled Veterans something to focus on other than their injuries or ailments, their pain or the way their life might be different now. Many Veterans signed up to join the military because they were active by nature. These programs allow them to stay just as active year-round."
All 17 Veteran Paralympians (PDF) did a phenomenal job continuing to represent the red, white and blue. Watch highlights from the games, and meet a few of this year's medalists:
William Groulx, U.S. wheelchair rugby captain, holds the ball during the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Name: Will Groulx
Service: U.S. Navy
Sport: Wheelchair Rugby
Current Residence: Portland, Ore.:
Wheelchair rugby combines several sports, and Groulx is prepared for all the elements. He grew up in the football land of Tennessee, received a volleyball scholarship from the University of Tennessee and attained elite endurance and strength in the Navy. Groulx began playing wheelchair rugby after a motorcycle accident that damaged his spinal cord. Thankful that sport keeps him active and helps him therapeutically, he is also grateful that it led him to his wife - she was a volunteer at a tournament in Portland. Now he's the father of twins, the captain of the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby team and a bronze medalist in this year's Paralympics.
Angela Madsen, Shot Put
Name: Angela Madsen
Service: U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Current Residence: Long Beach, Calif.
This was Madsen's 6th year on the U.S. National Team! She holds the Guinness World Record in rowing for years 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2003, the Amateur Athletic Foundation bestowed on her the "Women Who Inspire Us" award. Paired with Scott Brown, Madsen is also part of the winningest rowing duo. In addition to rowing, Madsen participates in wheelchair basketball, surfing and track and field. This year she won a bronze medal in women's shot put. Who holds the world record for that event? She does.
Kari Miller, far left, a former Army sergeant, and other members of the U.S. women's sitting volleyball team.
Name: Kari Miller
Service:U.S. Army (Ret.)
Sport: Para Sitting Volleyball
Current Residence: Edmond, Okla.
In 2009, Miller was home on leave and was hit by a drunk driver. The accident resulted in the loss of both of her legs. "In the weeks following the accident, I had plenty of bad days. But my physical and emotional rehabilitation came through athletic competition," says Miller. A friend suggested sitting volleyball as a way for Miller to keep in shape during the off-season of wheelchair basketball. That off-season sport eventually shifted to become her primary focus. The U.S. women's volleyball team is happy she made the change; Miller helped the team win silver this year.
Oz Sanchez, Para-Cycling
Name: Oz Sanchez
Service: U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Sport: Para Cycling
Current Residence: San Diego, Calif.
Sanchez dedicated six years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He had hoped to transition from the Special Forces unit to become a Navy SEAL, but a 2001 motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Although the injury prevented him from pursuing his original goal, this year he achieved something most can only dream of: both a gold and silver medal in Paralympic cycling events. A motivational speaker prior to the Games, Sanchez's presentations are bound to become even more inspiring.
Jennifer Schuble, Para-Cycling
Name: Jennifer Schuble
Service: U.S. Army (Ret.)
Sport: Para Cycling
Current Residence: Homewood, Ala.
For Jennifer Schuble, wheels are her thing. As an engineer for Mercedes-Benz, it's fitting that Schuble was one of the fastest para cyclists in the 2012 games. Even though the former West Point Cadet endured a traumatic brain injury during training, a car accident that crushed her arm and a multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2004, Schuble's silver and bronze medals show that her physical injuries aren't slowing her down. Even after Paralympic training and a full-time job, she still has enough momentum to play the cello, restore her home and cuddle with her English bulldog.
Updated/Reviewed: October 5, 2012