This month Sochi, Russia, will be the site of another major international multi-sport event – the 2014 Paralympic Games. From March 7 to 16, almost 700 athletes, 227 from the United States, will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals.
The origins of the Paralympics can be traced back to the 1948 Summer Games in London, when British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries participated in the International Wheelchair Games. The first official Paralympics took place in Rome at the 1960 Summer Games.
The Winter Paralympics began in 1976 in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, and were held every four years in the same year as their summer counterpart. Beginning in 1994, the Winter Paralympics were held in the same year as the Winter Olympics and at the same sites, beginning with the games in Lillehammer, Norway. The event was held in the U.S. in 2002 in Salt Lake City, the same venue for the 19th Winter Olympic Games.
This year’s Paralympic Games in Sochi will feature athletes from 44 different nations competing in 72 events in five sports. The sports are similar to the Olympic versions but adapted to accommodate the competitors’ range of disabilities. In the alpine skiing competition, seven events are designed for standing athletes, three for sitting athletes and three for visually impaired athletes. Similar adaptations are made for the cross-country skiing event and the biathlon (a combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting). Ice sledge hockey is played on modified sleds that allow players to navigate the rink and the puck to go beneath the players. And wheelchair curling allows for athletes to push the stones down the ice sheet using hands or poles. A new event, para-snowboarding, will be introduced at this year’s Paralympic Games, featuring two events for athletes with upper-body impairments and lower-body impairments, respectively.
The Paralympic Games have grown from an effort to give war survivors the opportunity to showcase their strength, abilities and integrity despite their physical limitation. Today’s Paralympians, in their often amazing demonstrations of skill and determination, represent what is best about the entire human race. Their desire to go faster, higher, stronger in the spirit of the Olympic motto truly serves as a reminder to us all of the limitless potential and ability of the human spirit.
PS – Remember, daylight saving time begins at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 9. Be sure to move your clocks forward one hour. And take that opportunity to check the batteries in your home’s smoke detectors, too!