In case you missed it, the 2016 Rio Paralympics closed out with a momentous ceremony on Sunday, September 18. Yes, we know it was the same night as the Prime Time Emmy Awards as well as Sunday Night Football which isn’t exactly ever bereft of viewers.
And you’d be forgiven for not feeling like enough Paralympics coverage was show on major networks…because it wasn’t. As you’ll see in the video helpfully created by Mic.com below, compared to the 6755 hours NBC dedicated to showing the Olympics, only 66 hours were dedicated to broadcasting Paralympic events. Right there is the first sign of discrimination and inequality.
If networks and sponsors thought any of the events and achievements over the past two weeks would in no way match up to that of Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and other world record-breaking athletes who graced the Rio stage, they’d be wrong.
Aside from the skillful displays shown in the numerous arenas, there were a number of personal stories that the mainstream media had a chance to showcase, but sadly didn’t. At least here in the US, NBC should’ve chosen to inspire viewers and up-and-coming athletes with powerful displays of human achievement despite physical odds with more coverage.
Thankfully, other media outlets, especially digital media, did a little better. Our favorite story from the games revolved around Team USA track and field star Tatyana McFadden. She was set to be the big winner, competing in 7 events altogether. Although she only managed to haul in a whopping 6 medals (yes, that *only* was highly sarcastic!), her four gold and 2 silver medals are the most number of medals by a U.S. track and field athlete at a Paralympics since Bart Dodson took eight (all gold) at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
At 27 years old, she now has a collective 17 Paralympic medals, which includes 7 gold medals, and one earned from the Sochi Winter Paralympics where she nabbed silver in the cross-country skiing event.
NBCsports.com reported that the marathon seems to be one of her best events. She won the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair races in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and so far this year has won the London and Boston marathons. To understand just what an incredible accomplishment this is, consider Tatyana’s upbringing for a moment.
Tatyana was born in Russia and paralyzed from the waist-down due to spina bifida. Her American parents, Deborah McFadden and Bridget O’Shaughnessy, adopted her at age 6 from an orphanage and raised her in Baltimore, MD. Her birth mother may have abandoned Tatyana, but it is her American family and fans who have embraced her as a breakout star for paralympians everywhere.
In a New York Times profile of her achievements and background leading up to the Rio games, including the news that her younger sister would also be competing (Hannah, 20, was adopted from an orphanage in Albania and is an above-the-knee amputee due to being born without a femur in her left leg), the clear discrimination in the pay earned by Paralympic athletes compared to able-bodied athletes is something Tatyana hopes to battle as her profile rises.
And she is not the only example of the pure world class athleticism on display at the Paralympics. In the 1500m men’s race, four athletes ran faster than their Olympics gold medal winner counterpart. Abdellatif Baka of Algeria won the T13 1500m final in 3 minutes and 48.29 seconds. By contrast, American Matthew Centrowicz only managed to win his race in 3 minutes at 50.00 seconds even.
The athletes who placed second, third and fourth in Abdellatif’s race ALSO beat Matthew Centrowicz’s time, which as the Independent points out, if this foursome were to compete in the Olympics, would’ve left the other competitors for dust. FYI The T13 athletes suffer from visual impairment, but there was certainly nothing holding them back from shattering a barrier that proves having a disability does not stop you from being amazing or achieving anything you set out to do.
For those who are familiar with Formula 1 racing, you night remember Italian competitor Alex Zanardi who almost lost his life in an horrific track during a race in 2001. He lost both his legs at the knee and needed a massive amount of blood in order to live. After he eventually recovered, Alex returned to racing a few years later after getting prosthetic legs and learning to drive in an adapted car.
He also took up hand cycling in 2007, which became the start of a second career for him. He won a gold medal at the 2012 London Paralympics, and on the the 15th anniversary of the race that nearly ended his life, he took home another gold in Rio.
CNN reports that he speaks openly about that crash, calling it the best thing that ever happened to him, and credits his success to his ability to overcome the odds.
“Normally I don’t thank God for these type of things as I believe God has more important stuff to worry about, but today is too much, I had to raise my eyes and thank him. I feel my life is a never-ending privilege,” he told reporters after the race.
He added a second gold and a silver to his overall Rio medal haul tally, proving that the label of “disabled” really does nothing to indicate what a person is capable of achieving. It is all about mindset and determination.
A handful of other notable moments, in a sea of many, were India’s 45-year-old shot putter Deepa Malik becoming the country’s first Paralympic medal winning, taking home the silver in the F53 class, and Nigerian female weightlifter Lucy Ejike who shattered 3 records in the women’s -61 kg division.
Nigeria is an interesting country to look at, because while their Olympic powerlifting team haven’t won any gold medals since 2000 according to CNN, their Paralympic team is in a class of their own. Josephine Orji broke the world record in the women’s +86kg division and was the 9th Nigerian to medal in Rio.
And a hometown hero to many, no doubt, Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias won a total of 9 medals in Rio, bringing his overall Paralympics medal haul to 14. The 28 year old is officially the most successful male Paralympic swimmer in history.
These are the athletes we want to pay homage to because while we have a long way to go until we see Paralympians paid the same as Olympians, there is certainly no shortage of inspiration, courage, determination and sheer talent. And knowing that many of these individuals have had to battle bigger hurdles than other athletes makes the attention they receive all the more worthwhile.