Tag Archives: Paralympic Games

Paralympic Swimmer Jessica Long Wins First Gold Medal for US

Seven-time Paralympic gold medalist Jessica Long was the first athlete to win gold for the United States in the 2012 London Paralympics. As of this post, the U.S. has 21 gold, 18 silver, and 25 bronze, for a total of 64 medals. People’s Republic of China is leading in medal count, with a total of 152 medals.

When Long was only twelve, she participated in her first Paralympic Games and won three gold medals at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Afterwards, she won the 2006 U.S Olympic Committee’s Paralympian of the Year award and the 2007 AAU Sullivan Award, given to the top amateur athlete in the country. She was the first Paralympian to ever receive this award, even beating out Olympian greats Apolo Ohno and Michael Phelps.

Long was born missing most of the bones in her lower legs and feet, this condition is known as fibular hemimelia. When she was just over a year old, she was adopted from Russia and taken into an American family. Doctors decided it would be best to amputate Long’s legs so she could wear prosthetic legs and learn how to walk. Reminiscing, her father says she was always a fierce competitor with her siblings on the playground and pool. When she turned ten, she joined her first competitive swim team, and just two years later she was competing in the Paralympics.

At the age of sixteen, she participated in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, where she won four gold, one silver, one bronze, and set three new world records. Despite these accomplishments, Long felt like she had “failed” and “wanted to retire.” She took a short break, but eventually returned to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.

In 2011, she won nine gold medals and set four world records at the Pan-Pacific Para Swimming Championships, won six gold medals at the Can-Am Swimming Open Championships, and was named Disabled Swimmer of the Year by Swimming Magazine. So far in 2012, she won her second ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability, as well as adding 5 gold and 2 silver at the London Paralympic Games.

Watch Jessica Long win one of those 2012 gold medals right here!


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Stephen Hawking Kicks Off the 2012 London Paralympic Games

Stephen Hawking Opens Paralympic Games

On the evening of August 29th, Stephen Hawking, Britain’s greatest living scientist, launched the 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony, urging the crowd to “be curious.” Joined by the band Orbital, Professor Hawking took center stage, where he guided the audience through a “journey of discovery of the wonder of science.”

Stephen Hawking Opens Paralympics with Orbital

A giant flaming orb came from the ceiling, accompanied by Professor Hawking’s computerized voice. He then wheeled out onto stage to share some of his never-ending knowledge, “Look up at the stars, not down at your feet.” The speech he had prepared was inspired by his book A Brief History of Time.

2012 London Paralympics with Orbital and Stephen Hawking

Hawking, 70-years-old, was diagnosed at the age of 22 with debilitating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the US or motor neurone disease (MND) in the UK. The disease has left him completely paralyzed and barely able to speak. His disabilities do not hinder his longing to learn and discover, however. He says, “We live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand. Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Stephen Hawking 2012 London Paralympics Opening

Six former Paralympians were flown onto the stage in gold wheelchairs. The Afghan war veteran and amputee, Joe Townsend, flew across the stadium on a zip wire to light the flame. The ceremony included 2,000 volunteers, 73 deaf performers, and 68 people with disabilities.

The opening ceremony was directed by Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey. Hemmings says, “We worked very closely with Professor Hawking to develop a series of messages which are very much integrated into the storytelling of the ceremony. Everybody knows about Professor Hawking and his extraordinary theoretical work and writings about science, which have made very complex ideas accessible to all of us. What came through in our meetings with him was the humanity and the humor of him. He is a fun guy.”

Stephen Hawking Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony

In the 1970’s the professor discovered “Hawking radiation,” which allows a black hole to leak energy and gradually fade away to nothing. He brought together the concepts of combining quantum theory and general relativity. This idea is described in A Brief History of Time, which sold 25 million copies.

He recently wrote a book in 2010, Grand Design, which analyzes the relationship between religion and science. The book disputes the origination of the universe. Not only is Hawking known for his scientific research, he was also featured as a cartoon in the TV series The Simpsons, starred in Star Trek, and narrated a British Telecom commercial that was later sampled on a Pink Floyd album.

Stephen Hawking Paralympics Opening Ceremony

Professor Hawking says, “The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world. We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”


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For One Paralympic Sailor, Embracing His Disability Makes Life Remarkable

Paralympian Paul Callahan Teaches Disabled Kids Sailing

Paul Callahan, a 55-year-old father of two, will be representing the United States at the 2012 Paralympics in sailing. This will be his second time competing. He also teaches children with disabilities how to sail in Newport, Rhode Island.

At the age of 21, Callahan attended Harvard University, where he studied business. He seemed to have endless possibilities, when a freak accident suddenly changed his life forever. He broke his neck by slipping on a wet floor, and the accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Although he can still use his arms, he no longer has use of his hands.

Sail to Prevail - Paralympian Paul Callahan teaches sailing kids with disabilities

After the accident he spent five years traveling to different rehabilitation centers across the United States in a hopeful search for recovery. Finally, a doctor told him he should start focusing on living a happy life without walking. He took the doctor’s advice, and in 1983 Callahan returned to Harvard, becoming the first quadriplegic to graduate from the university.

Callahan says, “It’s an evolutionary process where you transition from one life to the other. I never gave up moving forward.” He also adds, “Everyone is quite capable of doing much more than they think they can. Once they realize that fact, the world becomes their oyster.”

Paralympic Sailing Paul Callahan

In 2000, he competed in the Paralympics sailing event in Sydney, Australia. His team did not receive a medal; however, Callahan admits he was fairly new to the sport at the time. After gaining more experience, he took fifth place at the Disabled Sailing World Championships in Weymouth, Massachusetts last year.

Callahan’s passion for sailing sparked in 1995. He says, “I got on a sailboat and looked back at my empty wheelchair on the dock. It was the first time in fifteen years I was able to do something on my own. It was an incredible moment.”

Paul Callahan Sailing Paralympic Games

In fact, the moment inspired him so much, he quit his Wall Street job and took over the non-profit organization Sail to Prevail. The organization focuses on teaching children with disabilities how to sail. The charity is based in Newport, Rhode Island, and originally started with only eight children a year, but now helps around 1,000 children annually.

Callahan says he wants to win the gold not just for him, but for the children. “When we get on the starting line against fourteen other countries, I want to win a gold medal just as much as they do–but I’ve got an additional motivation. The better my team does, the more powerful impact it will have for Sail to Prevail.”

Paul Callahan Quadriplegic Paralympic Games Sailing

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he admits, “You’ve only got a limited amount of time in life. So you may as well choose to put that towards positive effort, rather than squandering it on the negative.”


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