Almost as big as the Olympics, the Paralympics showcases multi-talented athletes with disabilities from around the world in different sporting events. The origin of the tournament dates back to 1948 when Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized an event in England for veterans of World War II with spinal cord-related injuries.
The games were held annually with new countries joining every year, and is now known as the “Paralympic movement.” We saw these athletes donning their official countries’ colors for the first-ever Paralympic Games at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. The International Paralympic Committee is the governing body responsible for organizing the Summer and Winter Paralympics at present.
The major sports tournaments receives massive support from sports fans all around the world because of the athletes, who continue to inspire many in their pursuit of a gold medal. Let’s check out three of the most inspiring stories in the history of the Paralympic Games.
The Weirwolf of London
Born with Spinal Cord Transection, David Weir was never able to use his legs to walk, but, it has not stopped him from reaching his goals. When he was a kid, he discovered that he is skilled in wheelchair racing even though he was not fond of the sport at first — he grew to love it and became one of the best wheelchair riders in the world.
At the age of 17, he was called to represent England in the 1996 Atlanta Games where he placed 7th in the 100m event and 4th in the 4x100m relay. With this “disappointing” outing, he missed the 2000 Sydney Games, as he thought there is no future in Paralympics. Not until he watched the Sydney games on a television with a large crowd of supporters, was he motivated to experience the tracks at the Paralympics again.
In 2000, he joined the London Marathon where he placed fifth, and the following year as the second placer. In 2002, he competed again as the youngest in the age group and successfully got his first-ever championship. In the succeeding years, he continued to beat his personal record and land in a podium finish. These feats led him to be awarded as the BBC London Disabled Athlete of the Year in 2005.
Focused to return to the Paralympic Games, he was successfully called to compete in the 2004 Athens Games where he bagged a silver medal and bronze medal. In the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, he earned his first two gold medals in the T54 800m and 1500m events. Weir continues to roll as he did not disappoint his home crowd in the 2012 London Games with four gold medals. By this time, he established himself as one of the best wheelchair riders in the world and was dubbed the “Weirwolf of London”.
Early Retirement And Never Giving Up
Weir was proudly reaping the fruits of all his hard work in the past Paralympic Games. However, staying on top was cut short for him. In the next Paralympics at the 2016 Rio Games, everyone was surprised when Weir failed to win any medal. Going home, he announced his early retirement from the sport due to disappointment.
He admitted that it was likely the pressure of success was too much and caused him to lose focus. As a result he felt depressed, since that was the first time he failed to bring home a medal since 1996. It took him time to get back on his feet as he mustered all his courage to seek counseling and get back to the sport he loved.
Just a year later, he joined the London Marathon 2017 surprising everyone with another first-place finish. He further cemented himself as the best rider by winning the 2018 edition. When asked, his goal was to get back on the largest stage of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021.
Youngest World Record-Setter
Ellie Simmonds is a British Paralympian who has eight medals to her name for various swimming events. Despite being born with achondroplasia or “dwarfism”, she never felt small when racing through the waters during competition.
Simmonds loved swimming from the age of five. It started as a hobby but her former coaches saw potential in her which led her to compete in several local tournaments. She watched the 2004 Athens Games when she was nine years old and felt inspired by the athletes and tried to emulate their style.
With hard work and determination, she was the youngest athlete to represent her country in the 2008 Beijing Games. At the age of 13, she took home two golds in the 100m freestyle, and 400m freestyle, S6 events. In recognition of her efforts and triumph, she was appointed as a “Member of the Order of the British Empire” in 2009 and won the Jaguar Academy of Sport Annual Awards “Best British Sporting Performance for an Athlete with Disability” in 2011.
Simmonds continued to dominate in her sporting events, securing four medals in the 2012 London Games– two golds, a silver, and a bronze. Aside from winning her two golds she also set two world records in the S6 400m and S6 200m. This great feat elevated her status to “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” in 2013.
Swimming with a Smile
This young swimmer from Aldridge became the poster girl for the 2012 London Games after her record-breaking performances. Coming into the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, Simmonds added two gold medals.
According to her coaches and trainers, even at a young age, she exhibited determination and discipline. She never missed training nor came late. She was always on time and on point with whatever task she does. She maintains a very strict diet which she monitors herself. With this kind of dedication, it comes with no doubt why she has achieved all these accomplishments.
What people loved about Ellie Simmonds is her smile. She never forgets to wear one before and after a competition, whether she’s won a gold medal or not. Fans appreciate seeing her happy doing the sport that she loves.
Taking Down Adversity
Dartanyon Crockett is a two-time USA Paralympics bronze medalist for judo. Standing five foot seven inches, he’s proved himself to be a force to be reckoned with in the 90kg division despite being legally blind. He was born with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy which is a degenerative disease that limits his vision.
Aside from his condition, Crockett never had it easy in life. His mom died when he was eight and his father struggled with alcoholism. This young boy never gave up even though he practically considered himself homeless and lived on the free food of the school’s cafeteria.
He then found his love for sports which gave him the motivation to continue striving in his life. He discovered judo and immediately felt a sense of belonging. He says that whenever he is on the mat, he feels like he can be anything because there are no prejudices. He trained hard and eventually got recognition to be part of the US Wrestling Team.
Crockett admitted that he is a masochist in his sport, and even with several minor injuries and daily body aches, he continues to show discipline and dedication. As a testament to his hard work, he earned bronze medals for judo in the 2012 London Summer Paralympics and 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics. According to him, he will continue to push himself to the best of his ability to win gold in the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Games.
Not Just a Blind Kid
Crockett refuses to be remembered as the “blind kid”. Yes, life is more difficult for him due to his condition but he always wanted to be recognized for his accomplishments in judo as a Paralympian.
Despite being focused on his training for the competitions, Crockett finds ways to inspire more people to break past the limits that they set for themselves. He believes that everyone must remain strong despite the hardships in life, and just like all the devastating blows he receives during practice and games– he also does his best every day to remain standing.
At present, he openly shares his life story with people to help them foster motivation and inspiration. You can watch him talk about his hardships in the Youtube video below.
The Paralympic Games showcases athletes with a dream, whose disabilities force them to face and overcome adversity already in their daily lives. It is to the world’s benefit that we get to to see their dedication, positive and inspiring attitudes, and their commitment to showing all of which they are capable.
These strong athletes proved that no matter what life throws at them, they valiantly stride over hurdles, race past obstacles, or even face them head-on. David Weir, Ellie Simmonds, and Dartanyon Crockett inspire people to never let anything hold them back, and believe that they too can achieve their dreams.