How and Why You Should Be Watching the Paralympics

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So we’ve had another great Olympic run and we have new names to add to our Olympic memories. The world fell in love with Chloe Kim—just a few years after her GeekMom family did. Shaun White pulled off a hard-earned gold to add to his collection. And after two runs with malfunctioning bindings, David Wise pulled out all the tricks in the ski superpipe to earn another gold for his collection too.

But don’t think the excitement is over. As GeekMom’s resident amputee writer, I’m here to remind you why it’s important for you, and your kids, to tune into the Paralympics, which run March 9-18. If you’ve seen any commercials in the past six weeks, specifically the ones that ran during popular Super Bowl slots, you are aware that Paralympic athletes are everywhere in the media.

Over the next 2 weeks, NBC will be broadcasting 250 hours of competition, which is twice the coverage they allowed in 2014. About 94 of those hours will be on television. The rest will be spread across several platforms, including NBC.com.

Photo: Mike Shea

In the fourteen years that I’ve been an amputee, I’ve been thrilled to see a change in attitude about Paralympic sports and athletes. The name “para” doesn’t refer to anything associated with words like paralyzed or paraplegic. When referencing the Paralympics, para means “next to.” Fully qualified athletes who compete in the same venues, in many of the same sports, as able-bodied athletes. These are not watered-down sports. These are highly competitive men and women who spent full-time hours in the gym and on the race course refining their skills, despite a change in ability that life has thrown their way.

This is one of the reasons you should make it a point to watch the games with your kids. By seeing the stunning things these athletes can do, kids begin to see the disabled community as just regular folks who happen to face a few extra challenges. Once an eight-year-old sees an alpine ski racer fly down the mountain, hitting speeds up to 75mph, while being guided by a microphone in her ear because she is BLIND, she starts to see less of the lack of ability and more of the super athlete.

Most of the Paralympic athletes would tell you they don’t race so they will have an inspirational story. They race because they are competitive, and they don’t believe in the boundaries that were imposed on the disabled a generation ago. The race because they can. And they race fast, and well, because they work incredibly hard. Let me give you an overview of these Paralympic Games, so you can dive in and experience them along with the rest of the world. They are, after all, the third biggest sporting event in the world, only behind the Olympics and the World Cup.

Although the summer Paralympics have 23 sports, the winter version only has six: sled hockey, snowboarding, alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, and curling. Para ice hockey and curling are both co-ed, with men and women competing together. Forty-eight nations will send 550 athletes. Many of the American athletes trained side by side with Olympic athletes at locations like the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

Side note: most of the Olympic training centers in the United States have visitor centers attached. Our family has visited them in Colorado Springs and Park City. Both were full of fun Olympic facts and interactive displays. My kids got to try riding a luge down a paved road lined with hay bales on one of our visits. I treasure the pictures of them stacked together in a bobsled, and standing with arms wide open, comparing their wingspan to that of Michael Phelps. Find the information here and here, then add one of these spots to your family trip this year.

Most of the Paralympic athletes are very involved in social media. I strongly suggest you pick a few and follow them on Instagram or Facebook. As more of them are working with sponsors now too, there are endless videos of them as they travel the professional sports circuit and fly around the world for their sports.

Photo: Mike Schultz

In researching where I could find the Paralympics broadcast, I found an article about how NBC Sports is committed to having educated announcers for the games. This is important for several reasons. To begin with, there are different classifications that athletes compete under, so the competition is as fair as possible. Explaining how this works, and how it affects each specific contest, is one way the general public will be able to better understand the sports.

And as much as the athletes don’t want to be defined by their disability, the fact remains that the public will be curious as to how they ended up at the Paralympics and not the Olympics themselves. Knowing that the competitor lost his leg in a battle fought on foreign soil, or that an athlete was born with his condition and has never known anything different, makes the viewer more emotionally invested. It’s all part of the journey that made him/her a great athlete.

Because I have gotten to know them through X Games and follow them for years on social media, I have my personal favorites. I’ll let you know a little about them and you can watch for them during these games, or find your own personal favorites to follow. Every Paralympic athlete has an athlete profile on the Paralympic webpage. Find one you identify with, find out when they compete, and start cheering. The Olympic spirit (and Olympic fun) isn’t over. There are two more weeks of amazing stories and hard-won medals still to be awarded.

Mike Schultz: Mike was a professional snowcross racer who lost his leg in competition and wasn’t ready to give up sports. In his own shop, he designed and built a custom leg that used Fox shocks. This allowed him to not only get back on a snowmobile, but led him to try out a snowboard course. He’s now one of America’s top snowboarders, racing next to other athletes who also use his custom leg. Because of his contributions to adaptive athletes, Mike has been selected to carry the United States flag in the opening ceremonies. He’s as genuine as they get. Supported by an amazing wife and adorable daughter, he’s the kind of guy you want your kids to emulate. It doesn’t hurt that his picture is currently on the front of Frosted Flakes boxes. Get out your American flag and root for this guy!

Photo: Sara Schultz

Mike Shea: Another great “Mike.” Recently married to a wonderful life partner, and instant stepdad to her active young sons, Mike is another guy I’d highly recommend for role model status. He always loved snowboarding but didn’t ride competitively until a few years after he lost his leg in a boating accident. He’s very active in life, outside of his sports career, and is a fun guy to follow on Facebook. You’ll never regret rooting for this guy.

Danelle Umstead: If you click on no other link from this article, click on this one. This is Danelle, a professional speed skier who will represent the United States in the Paralympic Games. As she flies down the mountain, steering herself by the commands of her husband’s voice in her Bluetooth earpiece, she isn’t concentrating on the fact she’s been blind since she was a teen. She just wants to win. And she is counting on standing on that medal stand again this year, getting a Paralympic medal right next to her husband. After you watch the video of her past races, pick your jaw up off the floor and go follow her on social media. Then tune in to watch her fly down that mountain one more time. And be grateful she skis for your team.

Head over to the Paralympics page today and check out the beautiful ceremony that opened the Paralympic Games. You can also subscribe to the official Paralympic Games YouTube channel. And don’t forget to catch my buddy Mike Schultz, proudly carrying that American flag into the stadium.

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