The Olympic Games are considered the world's foremost sports competition, receiving vast amounts of funding and media coverage. But did you know that after the Games are over, another group of athletes takes the stage? The Paralympic Games, which began in 1948 with a small group of British World War II Veterans, has grown into another of the world's largest international sporting events. Games are held in the Olympic host cities, shortly after each Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Paralympians, who have made significant athletic achievements despite living with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities, inspire us with their talent, tenacity, and courage.
The Heroes And Their Stories
Some athletes have had to overcome what may seem like insurmountable physical challenges on their way to Paralympic glory. Italy's Roberto Marson lost the use of both legs when his spine was crushed by a falling tree. Marson went on to win 26 Paralympic medals, sixteen of them gold, in events as diverse as swimming, track and field, and wheelchair fencing. Mayumi Narita of Japan was wheelchair-bound since the age of thirteen due to myelitis, and she became quadriplegic after a 1994 traffic accident. An avid competitive swimmer, Narita competed in three Paralympic Games and won fifteen gold medals, placed in five more events, and broke eleven world records.
Swimmer Trischa Zorn is the world's most successful Paralympic athlete, winning 41 gold medals during the course of her career. Blind from birth, she began competing in the Paralympic Games in 1980 and won a total of 55 medals. In addition to her athletic accomplishments, Zorn now works with special needs children as an elementary school educator in the United States.
Michael Edgson is another Paralympic swimmer who never let his visual impairment keep him from pursuing his dreams. As a child, Edgson tried out ice hockey, soccer, and gymnastics before he found his passion in competitive swimming. He attended the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Paralympic Games, setting nine world records and winning eighteen gold medals.
Norwegian Ragnhild Myklebust holds the record for most medals won during the Winter Paralympic Games: 27 in total, of which 22 were gold. The majority of her medals were for cross-country skiing, but she has also medaled in the biathlon and ice-sledge racing. She has become an inspiration for other successful special and able-bodied athletes.
Beatrice Pierre Hess
Beatrice Pierre Hess has overcome the many challenges associated with cerebral palsy to become one of the best swimmers in the world. Nicknamed "the French Thorpedo", Hess won her first Paralympic gold medal in 1984 and followed it up with four more in 1988. She won six gold medals in 1996, and seven more at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, where she also broke nine world records.
At the age of three, Reinhild Möller lost half of her left leg in a farming accident. Since then, Möller has made a name for herself in both the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games, winning 19 gold medals in alpine skiing as well as medaling in athletic track and field events.
Other notable Paralympic gold medalists include Swedish shooter Jonas Jacobsson, Gerd Schönfelder of Germany, and British swimmer Mike Kenny.