More than 4,000 athletes, 150 countries, London, gold, silver, and bronze medals – sound familiar? You’re probably thinking “Olympics!”, but on Feb. 29 it was the Paralympics countdown that reached the 6-month mark.
More than a dozen Paralympic hopefuls live and train alongside Olympic hopefuls at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. Archers, sprinters, long jumpers, soccer players, archers, and tennis players (just to name a few) have their sights set on London as the Paralympic Games start Aug. 29, which comes two weeks after the Olympics Closing Ceremony.
“It's not so much about the athlete and their disability as it is the athlete and their ability” said Paralympic tennis player David Wagner.
The 37-year-old was paralyzed as a 21 year old college student when an ocean wave knocked him onto his head in Redondo Beach. Wheel chair tennis gave him a chance to compete against his friends again.
Now the sport is like a full time job. He trains up to 8 hours a day in a specialized chair and must tape the racket to his hand, which has about 30 percent function compared to an able bodied athlete.
"I have very limited grip, so I can grab a racket, but if I'm holding a racket without an assisting device and the ball hits the racket, it just flies out of my hand" said Wagner.
Spectators are often surprised, if not shocked, at the athletic ability of men and women who’ve lost limbs, have been paralyzed, or are blind. The athletes are grouped and compete against other athletes with similar disabilities.
Lex Gillette , 27, is hoping to make his third Paralympic team. A two-time silver medalist in the long jump and sprinter, Gillette can run faster and jump farther than just about anyone in the world. Not bad for a guy who is blind.
"You just realize you can't look at yourself in that fashion if you want to go out and accomplish things” said Gillette who runs alongside his friend, coach and guide Wes Williams.
Williams is essentially Gillette’s eyes on the track, which means there is a great deal of trust and communication between the two athletes.
“I can't see, so I have to depend on him to get me down the runway safely, I have to depend on him to get me through the races safely, if I don't trust him there's no way I can do any of this” said Gillette.
Williams marvels at his partner’s ability.
“I wasn't able to understand where he was coming from so I blindfolded myself, so there was a lot of things I did, just walking around was the eye opener” said Williams.
Gillette holds the Paralympic long jump world record with a jump of 22 feet.