Tagged with: athletes awareness coach disability goals life research sport wheelchair
As we all gather around the TV to watch the Paralympic Games in Rio which will be on NBC starting on September 8, remember that when cheering on Team USA and watching your favorite country/sport, one thing to keep in mind is that winning any medal is a culmination of a long journey filled with HOURS of Grueling Work!
Now many of us will not ever have the opportunity to win Gold, Silver, or Bronze at the Games. Many of us will not even get a chance to make a National Team. Now with that being said this doesn’t mean that what you are watching on TV is a group of lucky athletes who were selected because they have picked out of a hat or had great hair. Oh No! These Athletes selected have worked very hard just to be invited on their national team. They were not given a spot or a medal, it was very much earned.
I spent 8 years in the US program from 1998-2006 as a Paralympic Wheelchair rugby player. Now, I do have good looking hair (said with all humility) and a college degree. I was not selected based on this format. It was all the tests, skills, drills, and spills that I had to endure in order to be worthy of a selection.
My wheelchair sports career started about 10 years prior to being selected for the US rugby team. I played wheelchair basketball for several years before even knowing about wheelchair rugby. It was in September of 1995, that I was introduced to wheelchair rugby. I was very green and just pushed my rugby chair without really knowing all what I was doing. I just knew that I loved getting the ball and slamming into people. (I still do today.) It would be another three years, in 1998, before I tried out and was selected for Team USA. There were many experiences and failures to endure before I was selected onto the US Rugby High Performance Training Program in 2001.
The incredible aspect of being selected to the 2004 US Paralympic Wheelchair rugby team, which began in 2001, is that out 300 people that play wheelchair rugby in our nation I was one athlete selected to be part of a 12 player team. So, the odds can be stacked against you to begin with. Every year during that three year journey I had to arrive at each camp to reclaim my spot. I had to be faster, smarter, better, and more determined than the year before.
However, when it happens, when you are finally selected to represent your country, it is really an indescribable moment and feeling. It is just so very overwhelming… The best way to truly understand the significance of that moment is to go through the experience.
Although my Paralympic experience in Athens would not happen until 2004, it was during those 3 years prior to the games that I led a very focused and narrow lifestyle. I was committed to being a serious Paralympic athlete. It started with having high expectations on my rugby club team, the Lakeshore Demolition, and then following the standards set by Team USA. It was at the US level that workouts, exercises, and nutrition plans were strictly monitored and enforced. Being on Team USA meant you had to be tested for drugs, illegal and performance enhancing. Subject to being kicked out of the program if you fail. Finally, you have to sign a code of conduct letter stating that you will stay out of trouble and not be apart of any illicit activity on the internet. It was truly a lifestyle that I embraced and adhered to for 7 years. It is this same lifestyle that I try to follow since I have been out of the US program. I feel that once a “Paralympian, always a Paralympian”. Maybe you are not actively competing but you must still adhere to a healthy active lifestyle, as well as, be an ambassador to endorse Paralympic Sport and all athletic endeavors for people with disabilities.
Was all of this worth it? When you are on that podium and a medal is placed around your neck, you think about all those years of US training camps, all of those practices, scrimages, and individual workouts. You think of all the activities missed with friends or family gatherings you could not attend. It was worth it to me! I did not even win a gold medal, it was bronze, but I have never worked so hard in my entire life. I would gladly do it all over again. The real gold is in the journey. This experience has provided my life greater outcomes that I could have ever imagined. It was all because of my faith in God, my teammates, coaches, and very hard work. Enjoy the games! Do you plan to watch the Paralympic games?