I'm sure by now you all know about the 2012 Olympics taking place in London this week. But do you know about the Paralympic Games? They will take place immediately following the close of the Olympic Games. "Para" is the Greek word meaning "beside," used to emphasize how the two Games exist side-by-side. Paralympians are athletes with physical disabilities (such as vision impairment, limb deficiency, or intellectual impairment) that would otherwise prevent them from equally competing with other athletes. They compete in the same sport events (swimming, volleyball, rugby, archery, etc.) as other athletes, but in their own league.
Meet a couple of amazing Paralympians:
- Natalie Du Toit
At 17 years old, she had to have her left leg amputated after getting hit by a car on her way home from swim practice. In 2008, Natalie didn’t just compete in the Paralympics. She made history by becoming the first amputee ever to qualify for the Olympic Games! She swam in the 10-kilometer open water event without any kind of artificial limb, just her 2 arms and 1 leg!
- Oscar Pistorius a.k.a. "Blade Runner" and "the fastest man on no legs"
When he was only 11 months old, he had to have his legs amputated halfway between his knees and his ankles. He runs using specially made, J-shaped artificial lower legs. And he’s FAST! So fast that he has been selected to be a part of the 2012 South African Olympic team. He will be competing in the 400 meter and 4 x 400 meter relay races as the first double amputee runner at the Olympic Games!
Oscar, Natalie, and all the Paralympic athletes prove that disabled people are just as capable of accomplishing athletic feats as everyone else. As Oscar said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine, "Everyone has setbacks. I'm no different. I happen to have no legs. That's pretty much the fact."
Show your support for disabled athletes by cheering on Oscar Pistorious during his races on August 4 and August 9, and watching the Paralympics right after the Olympic Games end. Tell your friends to tune in, too. Let’s cheer on these remarkable people, and be encouraged by their stories of hard work and perseverance!
Images courtesy London 2012