Some athletes with gold medal aspirations begin the training process from a very young age. They practice day and night with coaches; they move thousands of miles away from home to Olympic training facilities to hone their sport and to become the best in the world. Other such athletes commit to all of the same routines but are born into a certain kind of greatness that sets them aside from the rest in the most wonderfully inspiring ways.
Not to set up this story like a herculean fable or recant a tale of modern day mythology in true Olympian style, but we can assume that some athletes competing in London this year are cut from a different cloth than their fellow competitors. Metaphorically comparable to the feat of a Greek god or goddess, some of these athletes defy all odds, and their stories and aspirations inspire many and deserve to land them prime spots on a box of Wheaties. We're talking about each and every Paralympic Athlete competing in the 2012 London games.
Quite frankly, many are unaware that the summer and winter Paralympic games are held in conjunction with the Olympics and serve to bring equality and opportunity to the world of sports. They are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (ICP) and have been spearheading the Paralympic movement since 1989 with their motto: "To enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world," a task they have successfully carried out to this day with 4,200 Paralympic athletes competing in this year's games -- athletes who hail from 160 different countries around the world.
With more than a million tickets to the games being sold within the first couple of weeks they were on sale, this year's games are guaranteed to be the largest in Paralympic history and will feature competitions for the bronze, silver and gold medals in 20 different sport categories.
Oklahoma has had a huge involvement with the Paralympics and Olympics, especially since in 2009 the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the United States Olympic Committee, Stephanie Streeter, decreed that the Oklahoma River and the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation would be a training site for rowing, canoeing and kayaking along with the University of Central Oklahoma -- already a hotspot for Olympic and Paralympic training for archery and volleyball.
Incidentally, the Oklahoma River is the only river in the United States that is a certified Olympic and Paralympic training site for the previously mentioned watersports.
This year, two rowing hopefuls from the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation's Paralympic training program have made the cut and have already toted off to London for the games.
Emma Preuschl, no stranger to Paralympic glory and a Beijing silver medalist in adaptive rowing will be competing in this year's Paralympics having moved from Indiana to Oklahoma City for a more centralized training program. Preuschl obtained an injury at birth called Erbs Palsy of the brachial plexus, a fancy term for a nerve injury that has left her left arm smaller and weaker than the other. But this has not stopped her from making many achievements in her sport.
"Her right arm is very strong," said High Performance Adaptive Coach Matt Muffelman who has played mentor and coach to Preuschl for the last year.
"The nice thing about adaptive rowing is that (athletes) don't adapt to the sport, they adapt to the equipment," Muffelman said.
Athletes train on their own until shipping off to training sites to partake in a focused high performance program at the Devon Boathouse in OKC.
"It's a free-for-all," Muffelman said of the rowers' training before coming to the Boathouse. Once he gets hold of them, rowers are treated to a daily schedule of physical therapy, yoga, weight lifting and more. "They work just as hard, if not harder than able-bodied rowers," he said.
Andrew Johnson, a Connecticut transplant and Boathouse trainee, comes with an equally remarkable story. Born visually impaired, but having the ability to sense light and dark, Johnson has been a member of the National Adaptive Rowing team since 2009 and rows in a four-man rowing shell. Even when denied a place on his college rowing team, Johnson has not let his disability inhibit his Olympic dreams.
"He has the best sense of humor [of] anyone I've ever met," Muffelman said.
Just as the student learns from the teacher, as a coach, there was a lot to learn when it came to working with Johnson. "The biggest challenge for me as a coach was ... for able bodies, I can show them what I want them to do, but I have to verbalize what I want him to do," Muffelman said, "It's made me a better coach."
Muffleman, a rower on the national team from 2002-2005, attended the World Championship with the rowers in Slovenia and notes that rowing is the only Paralympic sport that is held at the same time as Olympic rowing. "It's a very unique situation and a lot of fun," he said.
A great life lesson can be learned from these athletes: perseverance, self confidence and drive. And with the increasing popularity and availability of Paralympic training sites, these characteristics can be had by all who seek them. Muffelman notes that the Paralympics are held for individuals with physical disabilities, and along with the Oklahoma City Boathouse foundation they believe that these disabilities can certainly be overcome.
Preuschl and Johnson are two of four paralytic adaptive rowers from the United States who will be competing in London. Jeremy Campbell, already a Paralympic gold medalist and member of the national Paralympic track and field team, will compete in the London games as well. The 2012 Paralympic Games officially begin August 29 and will run through September 9.
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