Winter Paralympics 101
The Paralympics are underway this week in Vancouver for the 10th Winter Paralympics since 1976. The Paralympics are just like the Olympics with sporting events specifically for athletes with disabilities. There are 5 main categories of events:
Ice Sledge Hockey
Athletes with leg disabilities qualify to participate in Ice Sledge Hockey. The game is just like real ice hockey with mostly all the same rules. The big difference is that the athletes are sitting in a sledge specifically designed for the sport. The sledge is like a small sled with a single long skate blade running under the middle of the sled. The players use two sticks, similar to ski poles, to propel themselves across the ice. One of the sticks is used to also handle the hockey puck, shoot, pass, and score.
Wheelchair curling is exactly how it sounds. Athletes in wheelchairs use a long rod, called a throwing stick, to push the rocks across the ice surface to score points just like a regular curling match. Although there is no sweeping, teammates help each other by holding their teammate’s wheelchair in place so that the thrower doesn’t move when he pushes the rock.
Alpine skiing has several events where athletes with different disabilities compete within their own form of downhill skiing. There are athletes with visual impairment who ski with someone to communicate the direction of the course. There are athletes who have disabled legs or one-legged, who ski with normal ski equipment standing. Then there are athletes who ski on a monoski, which is designed for athletes with disabled legs so they can sit while skiing. All three forms of skiing are held on steep downhill runs and the athletes are known to go up to speeds of 60 to 70 mph.
Cross-Country Skiing and Biathlon
Much like Alpine Skiing, the Cross-Country Skiing events also have categories for visually impaired, standing, and sitting skiers. They travel distances from the 1km sprint to the 20 km long distance over cross-country terrain. The biathlon is a long cross country race with the skiers shooting targets with a rifle and even the visually impaired participate in this event with a motion sensor that beeps to let them where their gun is pointed.
The Paralympics is truly an inspirational celebration of overcoming adversity. There are lots of sad stories about the athletes and their disabilities, but for them to participate at such high levels of sports really shows that nothing is impossible.