Ever seen a game of Murderball? That’s what they call wheelchair rugby, a sport so full-contact they keep welders on the sidelines to repair damaged chairs.
If you haven’t, now’s your chance.
The planet’s second-largest sporting event, the London 2012 Paralympics, began Wednesday and runs through Sunday, September 9th. Held in the same venues as the recent London Olympics, this year’s Games feature 4,200 athletes from 166 teams competing in 20 sports.
Forget everything you thought you knew about strength.
Forget everything you thought you knew about humans.
It’s time to do battle.
Meet the Superhumans:
The Paralympics began in 1948 to help rehabilitate World War Two vets with spinal injuries. On the same afternoon that athletes from 59 countries marched into London’s Wembley Stadium for the Opening Ceremonies of the 1948 Summer Olympics, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann got together 16 paralyzed Royal Air Force pilots on the lawn of nearby Stoke Mandeville Hospital for an archery competition.
A year later more vets from more hospitals competed in more events. By 1954, vets from the Netherlands, Egypt, Australia, Canada, Israel and Finland were competing alongside the Brits in archery, table tennis, javelin and water polo.
In recent years, the Games have circled back to their roots. Nearly nine percent of Team USA’s 227 athletes this year are military vets or active duty service members, including six permanently disabled in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. All the athletes have some physical impairment: amputation, blindness, cerebral palsy or other mobility disabilities. One American athlete spent four years in a coma.
South African sprinter Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius will be there. Pistorius recently made history by becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
So will javelin thrower Ce-Ce Mazyck, an 82nd Airborne paratrooper paralyzed when her chute tangled with another during a jump nine years ago. Doctors told her she’d never walk again. Mazyck said she would.
Guess who was right.
Meet the Superhumans: LT Brad Snyder
And today Brad Snyder is racing for gold. He’s first in the world among blind swimmers at not one, not two, but three freestyle distances (50-, 100- and 400-meters). He’s also No. 2 in the 100-meter butterfly and No. 4 in the 200-meter individual medley.
A year ago Snyder could see. He writes:
At about this time last year, I would have been in my small room at a Camp located just south of Khandahar Air Field. I probably would have had an episode of “Sons of Anarchy” going in the background as I carried out some last minute checks on my gear. After I was content with my loadout, I would lay down for a lengthy daytime nap, as true rest would not be available during our time in the field. Upon awakening I would poke my head into our hallway, and look for which of my teammates would be interested in joining me for a pre-mission feast. These meals always tasted better than the others, as each of us knew the next few meals would largely consist of CLIF bars and beef jerky. I would generally wrap my dinner up with a nice cup of coffee, which I would enjoy through our final mission briefing. After the latest intelligence was reviewed, and the entire team was content with our actions and responsibilities during the ensuing mission, the team would break to go don our armor and rucks. Afterward, large rickety Afghan jingle trucks would haul us to the nearby airfield, where we would wait for giant twin blade helicopters to pick us up and take us to where we would begin our mission. While waiting we would cut the tension by making jokes, mostly at each other’s expense. Once the steady thumping of the rotors could be heard, however, all jokes would cease. In a silence that slowly filled with the deafening sound of the inbound helicopter, we mentally prepared to carry out our individual responsibilities to the best of our ability.
LT Bradley Snyder is a U.S. Navy EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Officer who lost his vision after an IED explosion in Afghanistan last September 7th. Racing to help two Afghan soldiers wounded in a prior explosion, Snyder stepped on a second device hidden in an irrigation ditch in a farmer’s field.
Transferred stateside to Bethesda Naval Hospital, the former Naval Academy swimmer was back in the water by late October. Soon he was swimming 4,000 yards a day. He earned a spot on Team USA this past June with spectacular times at the time trials in Bismark, North Dakota.
Snyder’s signature event is the 400-meter freestyle, and he’ll be swimming it next Friday.
That’s Friday, September 7th.
A year to the day after his world was rocked.
It’s difficult to imagine and quantify the emotions I’ll be running through that day. But it’s going to be a moment that I’m going to enjoy. Because to me, competing on that day means that I was presented a challenge and I experienced some success in my transition to blindness. I conquered my adversity to some extent. Obviously, the adversity is not conquered. I’m still blind at the end of the day. But it means I’ve walked the path from being chained to the bed at exactly a year ago to competing on an international level at [an] event like the Paralympics. It means I won a little bit.
I’d say it means he’s won a lot.
And that’s before he hits the water.
Ways to follow the Paralympics:
- Live-streamed on the Paralympics website or Team USA’s website
- Recorded events on the Paralympics website or on Team USA’s YouTube channel
- One-hour highlight shows on NBC Sports Network on September 4, 5, 6, and 11 (or later on Universal Sports Network)
- A 90-minute special on NBC, September 16th, 2 p.m. ET
- Follow Team USA on Facebook.
(H/T to Lori Volkman at Witty Little Secret for introducing me to Brad Snyder)