2016 US Paralympic Team Trials. The Road To Rio.

In 1948, the very first organized athletic competition for disabled athletes took place in London UK during the opening of the Summer Olympics. It was called the 1948 International Wheelchair Games. The creator, Dr. Ludwig Guttman of Germany, wanted an elite sports competition for people who lived with disabilities. It wasn’t until 1960 when the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome. 23 countries participated. In the beginning, only athletes in wheelchairs were allowed to compete. Not until the 1976 Summer Games were athletes with different disabilities allowed. That year, 40 countries sent 1600 athletes to compete. In 2008, over 3900 athletes from 146 countries competed. Needless to say, the interest of the Paralympic Games has grown dramatically. As adaptive equipment has advanced and allowed the disabled community to reach levels of performance previously unheard of, so has the interest in becoming a Paralympic athlete. Not only has the interest in becoming an athlete grown, but also the interest in watching the games. This year NBC has dedicated 66 hours of television coverage to the Paralympic Games. That’s an increase of 60.5 hours of the coverage from the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

So you have a disability. Have you ever thought about competing in the Paralympics? Who knows, you might have what it takes to make the podium. In order to qualify for the games, first an athlete has to be classified. The Paralympic classification system was created to organize competition among athletes with physical, intellectual and visual impairments. The system is based on scientific evidence and athlete evaluation. To ensure fair competition, an athlete’s type and degree of activity limitation determines his or her assignments to a specific sport class. Each athlete must undergo an international classification process, separate from their own nation’s classification process. The process typically includes the verification of the impairment, physical and technical assessments to examine activity limitation, and observation in the competition. Each individual sport that an athlete competes in requires a separate classification.  After classification, comes competition. Numerous sporting events are held around an athlete’s country, giving him or her the chance to compete and be ranked. The better your performance at these events, the better your chances of being chosen for the Paralympic team. The 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in cycling, swimming and track & field were held in June in Charlotte North Carolina. I got a chance to spectate at the competitions and network with some of the amazing athletes who would go on to make up the 2016 US Paralympic Team.

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Opening ceremonies for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio start on Wednesday September 7. Closing ceremonies are on Sunday September 18. You can catch all the action on NBC and NBCSN. Check your local listings for show times. usparalympics.org

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