The London Olympics were incredible for myriad reasons, but one of the most important of these was undoubtedly the treatment of the Paralympics. For possibly the first time, the Paralympics were treated as of equal importance, and the Paralympians were catapulted into the limelight alongside their able-bodied brethren. In light of their awe-inspiring achievements, we give you five incredible disabled athletes.
1. – Oscar Pistorius
Nicknamed “Blade Runner”, Pistorius is known for the distinctive carbon fibre prostheses he uses to run. The South African is classified as T43 as he had both of his legs amputated below the knee at the age of just 11 months, but he instead chooses to race alongside the T44 competitors – people who have had one leg amputated.
With gold medals in the last three Paralympics he is a formidable athlete, but was banned from competing in able-bodied competition in 2008 due to “unfair advantage”. However, this was soon overturned, and in 2012 he became the first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympics, as part of the South African 4 x 400 metres relay squad.
2. – Matt Stutzman
Another favourite at the London Paralympics, Stutzman’s style is easily recognised – self-dubbed “The Armless Archer”, he sits on a camping stool, raises his bow with the toes of his right foot, pulls the cord using his teeth and then inserts the arrow with his left foot. Almost every time he loosed his arrow, he hit the full ten points.
Incredible to watch, even the other Paralympians could hardly believe archery was possible without arms, but Stutzman has proven even his harshest critics wrong. Having been born without arms, Stutzman has overcome adversity his entire life, and came away from the 2012 Paralympics as a silver medallist and a fan favourite.
3. – Clodoaldo Silva
Silva was paralysed at birth, following complications during delivery, and grew up as part of a poor family in Brazil. This has seemingly failed to effect his dreams and ability to pursue them however, first winning three bronzes and a silver medal in men’s S4 swimming at the Sydney Paralympics, and ending his Paralympic career with a bronze in the S5 4 x 50m freestyle.
All this, without mentioning his greatest moment. In the 2004 Games in Athens, Silva came away with a Phelps-like tally: six gold medals, one silver. He is a truly inspirational athlete, the best swimmer in Paralympic history.
4. – Lu Dong
Like Stutzman, Dong has become one of the iconic images from the London Paralympics. The photograph – depicting her clenching the towel between her teeth to allow her to launch into the pool for the 100m backstroke – shows the pure grit and determination shown by every disabled athlete.
The 20-year-old Chinese woman lost her arms in a car accident at the age of 14, but never faltered under the hardship of her new disability. She tried swimming for the first time and found her strength in the water. 2012 was her first Paralympics, and she not only won gold in the backstroke but smashing the world record by almost two seconds in an incredible display of athleticism.
5. – Kyle Maynard
Stepping away from the Paralympics, our final entry is the American Kyle Maynard. Born in 1986, he suffered from congenital amputation and has no arms below the elbows and legs that end near the knees. This, however, has not stopped his drive.
He took up wrestling in high school and kept at it, despite losing every single match his first year. He went on to win 36 matches in his senior year, and even became the first quadruple amputee to fight mixed martial arts. As if that wasn’t enough, in January 2012 he also became the first quadruple amputee to climb the entirety of Mount Kilimanjaro unaided. No matter how you look at it, Kyle Maynard is a truly inspirational person.
Tom Rokins is a freelance journalist, and is currently writing on behalf of www.quest88.com, manufacturers of products to aid people with standing and walking.