Awesome American Paralympians to watch out for in Rio.
Eleven-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden, 26, is one of the top wheelchair racers in the world. Nicknamed “Beast,” McFadden was born with spina bifida that left her paralyzed below the waist - and by age 15, she was the youngest member on the 2004 Paralympic team in Athens. Tatyana could potentially win every distance in wheelchair racing in Rio. That would mean a seven gold medal haul. Just call her the Michael Phelps of wheelchair racing. But she goes one better. Tatyana is a summer and winter Paralympian, having competed in Sochi in 2014 in cross country skiing and winning a silver medal.
Tatyana had to file suit when her high school, citing safety concerns, didn’t allow her to race. Her victory was instrumental in the eventual passage of the Disabilities Act. She has been unstoppable as an athlete and an inspiration to others ever since.
Tatyana was adopted from a Russian orphanage by Debbie McFadden and Bridget O’Shaughnessey. Her sisters Hannah, a Paralympic athlete also, and Ruthi were adopted from Albania.
At 16, Hannah McFadden (R) was the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team at the 2012 London Games. She won her first world medals in 2015 with a silver in the 100-meter T54 and bronze in the 200. Hannah will be competing against her sister, Tatyana, in three events.
Mom, Debbie, was the U.S. commissioner of disabilities in 1989 and helped write the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Sports is a family effort with Debbie acting as manager and Bridget fixing wheelchairs and pitching in everywhere.
Photo: Tatyana (L) and Hannah McFadden look on after the Women’s 100m T54 Final on day 10 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games on September 8, 2012 in London.
Archer Matt Stutzman was born without arms and calls himself “the Armless Archer.” The world record holder for the longest accurate shot in the sport credits his parents, who adopted him at 13-months-old, with teaching him that “impossible is a state of mind and not one I should embrace.”
Stutzman, who grew up in Iowa, learned to shoot before he to turned to archery. His mom, Jean Stutzman, wrote on her son’s blog that Matt doesn’t see himself as disabled, but rather someone doing things with “unusual abilities in unique ways and a desire to experience life.”
Stutzman won a silver in the 2012 London Olympics and is taking aim at more medals in Rio.
Jessica Long - Swimming
At 12-years-old, double-amputee Jessica Long, from Baltimore, competed in the 2004 Paralympic games and came home with three gold medals. Since then, the champion swimmer has proved unstoppable, winning numerous international awards.
Jessica, born with fibular hemimelia in Siberia, was adopted from a Russian orphanage by Steve and Beth Long at 13-months-old, along with a little boy. Her legs were amputated at 18-months-old to fit her with prosthetics. The Longs provided her with a large family of siblings (five) and she learned to swim in her grandparent’s pool.
She has 17 Paralympic medals, three Paralympic records and 20 World Records. Jessica was named by Sports Illustrated as one of “The World’s Best Female Athletes” in 2006 and 2011.
Her favorite quote by Christopher Robin is “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Melissa Stockwell had always wanted to join the Army and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant after graduating from the University of Colorado in 2002. In 2004, her vehicle was struck by an IED in Iraq and she lost her left left above the knee. She is the first female soldier to lose a limb in active combat.
The lifelong athlete didn’t give up sports or her dream of being an Olympic athlete. The Purple Heart and bronze star recipient became the first Iraqi War vet to qualify for the Paralympics in swimming. She also had the honor of being chosen to carry the U.S. flag during the Beijing closing ceremony. Afterwards, she took up the paratriathlon, a sport making its debut in the Rio Paralympics.
Stockwell gives back through her work fitting other amputees with prosthetics and serving on the board of the Wounded Warriors Project.
Nick Springer - Wheelchair rugby
In August of 1999, 14-year-old Nick Springer was given his last rites in a Massachusetts hospital. Doctors said the New York teen had a 10 percent chance of survival after he contracted a rare form of meningitis while hiking the Appalachian Trail during summer camp.
Eight weeks later, Springer awoke from an induced coma in a New York hospital burn unit. Surgeons had been forced to amputate his legs above the knee and his arms below the elbow. A lifelong hockey player, he couldn’t feed or dress himself, let alone think about lacing up his skates. But while he was transformed physically, he was undeterred mentally.
“My family made a point of showing me my life was not over,” he said. “It was more of a timeout.” His perspective was “You’ve got to look at it and you’ve got to kind of cut your losses and go.”
Springer was on the gold medal winning team in the 2008 Parlympic Games and won a bronze in the 2012 London Games.
Jerome Singleton (L) had a below-the-knee amputation at 18-months-old that hasn’t stopped him from excelling in track, basketball and football. He was one of the top football high school prospects in his state. Singleton has competed in Paralympic track and field events since 2006, racking up an impressive medal collection.
In 2011, Singleton earned the distinction of fastest amputee on the planet when he won the gold medal at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The three-time Paralympian, raised in Irmo, South Carolina, was born with a partial tibia in his right leg. That hasn’t slowed him down. He is both athlete and scholar, with degrees in mathematics, applied physics and indistrial engineering design.
Garcia-Tolson was born with several birth defects, including Pterygium Syndrome, a club foot, webbed fingers and a cleft lip and palate. By age 5 he had endured 15 surgeries before telling his parents he preferred a double leg amputation.
On his prosthetic legs, he has become an accomplished runner, swimmer and cyclist. Garcia-Tolson has won four Paralympic medals, including two golds, and numerous other awards. He became the first double above-knee amputee to successfully complete an Ironman triathlon in 2009.
Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann
Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann was named the Disabled Athlete of the Year in 2009, 2010, and 2011 by USA swimming.
Weggemann had been a competitive swimmer since she was seven-years-old. An epidural injection in her back to treat a complication from shingles left her paralyzed from the waist down in 2008. She didn’t waste much time and was back in the pool three months later. She has set 34 American records, 15 World Records and has two Paralympic medals, gold in the 50 Freestyle and bronze in the 4x100 34 point medley relay, going into the 2016 Rio Games.
In this photo, Weggemann leads the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 26, 2016.
Allison Jones - Cycling
Born without her right femur, Allison Jones is a two-sport threat as a Paralympic medal-winning skier and cyclist. She has competed for the U.S. Paralympics team since the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
After a 2001 skiing accident broke two vertebrae in his neck the year he graduated from high school, Seth McBride turned to wheelchair rugby to stay active. Since then, he’s won medals in rugby tournaments around the world, including the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, bringing home gold, and the 2012 London Games in which he won bronze.
McBride and Kelly Schwan, who volunteered for Team USA in Beijing as an occupational therapist, took on the unique challenge of the Long Road South, a yearlong 10,000-mile handcycle/bicycle trip from Portland to Patagonia in 2013, meeting with disability rights groups along the way.
Oz Sanchez - Handcycling
Oz Sanchez was in the Marine Corps for six years and was part of a Special Forces unit deployed to the Middle East.
When a hit-and-run motorcycle accident took away his ability to walk before he could fulfill his goal of becoming a Navy Seal, Sanchez decided to take a “proactive approach to life [and to take] the bull by the horns.”
Sanchez has competed in triathlon and handcycling events at the Paralympics, winning four medals since 2008. He was crowned a three-time world champion after winning two gold medals in the 2011 World Championships in Denmark.
Nick Taylor and David Wagner - Tennis
Four-time Paralympian David Wagner (left) is paralyzed from the mid-chest down because of an accident that broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord. He was a collegiate tennis player before the accident left him paralyzed. Partnered with Nick Taylor (right), the duo have been dominating the Paralympic tennis circuit since 2004 and are currently ranked No. 1 in quad doubles. Both men have held the No. 1 world ranking in Quad singles at one time.
Taylor, who has a rare congenital disease arthrogyrposis, and Wagner have more than a dozen Grand Slam titles to their credit. The two are chasing their fourth consecutive gold medal in Rio. Both will also compete in Quad singles.
Blind swimmer Tucker Dupree took home three medals in the 2012 Paralympics. Dupree grew up playing sports. It wasn’t till high school that he woke up one day not able to see out of his left eye. With a few short months he was 80 percent blind in both eyes. He had a very rare condition called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). He continued to swim and broke five U.S. records and five Pan-American records in his first Paralympic competition in 2007. That performance made him the fastest blind swimmer in the U.S. in more than 20 years.
Dupree holds 43 American records, two world records and nine Pan-American records. He told Swimming World Magazine, “I am able to do more without vision than I ever would have ever dreamed of doing with it.”