Entries in Paralympics (3)


Paralympics: Spinal Cord Injuries Open Door to 'Boosting'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Bryan Kirkland could always spot a booster.  Sweaty arms, shaky legs and "chicken skin" were telltale signs of the dangerous practice, banned from the Paralympics for its performance-enhancing effects.

"All I could do was shake my head," said Kirkland, 41, a Paralympic gold medalist from Leeds, Ala.  "It's so dangerous, and for what: so you can win a race?"

Like blood doping, boosting increases the amount of oxygenated blood circulating in the body.  But instead of using blood transfusions and erythropoietin injections, boosters break their toes, block their catheters and crush their scrotums.

"This practice is very unique to individuals with high-level spinal cord injuries," said Dr. Yagesh Bhambhani, professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, explaining how a spinal cord injury blocks pain signals from the body to the brain.  "An able-bodied person would not be able to do this."

Boosting uses self-inflicted injuries to trigger autonomic dysreflexia, a condition that's considered a medical emergency when it happens by accident.  Although boosters can't feel the pain, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing risky rises in blood pressure.

"If you raise your blood pressure, your heart theoretically pumps more blood. If your heart pumps more blood, you get more oxygen.  And if you get more oxygen, your performance is improved," said Bhambhani, author of a 1994 study that found boosting could improve wheelchair race times by nearly 10 percent.

But boosting is dangerous.  It was banned at the Paralympics in 2004, "not only because it's performance enhancing, but also because it's a huge health risk," according to Craig Spence of the International Paralympic Committee. "We want athletes to play by rules, play fair, and not risk a heart attack or a stroke for a medal."

Spence said athletes are screened for high blood pressure before certain events, like wheelchair racing. But because autonomic dysreflexia can happen unintentionally -- if an athlete is strapped into a chair too tightly, for example -- boosting is difficult to detect.

"If an athlete generally has high blood pressure and has a medical certificate to prove it, we will allow those athletes to compete. But if an athlete is really tense and doesn't have a certificate -- even it's from autonomic dysreflexia -- then they're banned from competing on the grounds it could lead to a heart attack or a stroke," said Spence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Swimmer Comes Back from Paralysis

Courtesy Dave Denniston(NEW YORK) -- Swimmer Dave Denniston had it all: Twice a top-five finisher at the Olympic Trials, a World Record Holder, a 15-time All-American and an NCAA National Champion.

That was before a fateful day in 2005 when a sledding accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, changing his life forever.

Denniston grew up in Wyoming with aspirations to become an Olympic athlete.  In high school, he shattered state records and was capturing the attention of college recruiters.

After Denniston graduated from Auburn he tried his success on the international level, competing in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials.  His bids to join the U.S. Olympic team were unsuccessful, though, and after his 2004 attempt he decided to go back to Wyoming and wind down with some sledding, one of his favorite hobbies.

"I went up to the mountain with some friends and started to sled, and I decided to try sledding head first," he recalled.  "On my second try, I went down the mountain, I lost complete control of the sled.  I went into a grove of trees, and instead of hitting the tree with my face, I turned to my back at the very last second."

What came after the impact was the worst thing Denniston could have ever imagined.

"I was starting to spit up blood; the trees were spinning and worst of all... I couldn't feel my legs," he said.

While Denniston sat motionless on the snow, he recalled, an avalanche of possible scenarios flashed through his mind.  "Would I be confined to a wheelchair, or will I actually die?" he asked himself.

Denniston was flown to a nearby hospital, where he received the terrible news.

"It was when I was in the hospital when I found out I was paralyzed from the waist down, and I should get used to life in a wheelchair, because I would have little to no function in my legs," he said.

Denniston knew he still wanted to swim but he didn't know how to begin.  It was a visit from Jimi Flowers, the man who recruited Denniston to Auburn and who was also the head coach of the Paralympic swim team, that got him excited about swimming again.

"I loved being in the water, and I love the sport of swimming.  I also hadn't completely let go of the dream of competing for the United States in the Olympic Games," Denniston said.  "I wanted to be an Olympian, and I quickly saw that being a Paralympian was the exact same."

What followed was years of surgery, recovery, rehabilitation and training.  However, with Flowers' coaching, Denniston's dream became a reality when he made the U.S. swimming team for the 2008 Paralympic games.

"I had an overwhelming rush of pride when they announced my name," he said.  "I was able to hold back tears until I looked back at my parents and sister who were all in tears.  Then I lost it.  It's one of those life highlights I will never forget and was fortunate enough to experience again at the opening ceremonies in Beijing, with Jimi pushing me into the birds nest."

Today, Denniston is the coach of the 2012 Paralympic Resident Swim team in Colorado Springs -- the same position his mentor Flowers had before him.  Flowers died in a fall while climbing a mountain in Aspen in 2009.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Paraplegic Explains Passion to Climb Kilimanjaro

Chris Waddell is the first person to climb Mount Kilimanjaro using a handcycle, a trek documented in the 2010 film "One Revolution." (Courtesy Chris Waddell)(NEW YORK) -- Chris Waddell's face was inches from the ground, coated in volcanic ash. He was exhausted, drained from the previous days of climbing the varied terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. But there was a mountain he needed to climb, so he turned the crank on his handcycle one revolution, and then another, and then one thousand more times until he reached camp for the day.

A skiing accident two decades before had left Waddell paralyzed from the waist down. But because of a hand-cranked wheelchair, he was able to achieve what many assumed was impossible, becoming the first person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro using a handcycle, a trek documented in the 2010 film One Revolution.

"The idea of climbing a mountain, people could understand that," Waddell, now 43, told ABC's 20/20 in an interview. "That's the metaphor for life: This idea that we're all climbing a mountain."

After his accident, Waddell said, he refused to focus on what he could no longer do, telling ABC News that the accident was the best thing that has ever happened to him.

"I felt like a transformed person," he said. "I felt, in a lot of ways, like the person that I'd always thought I was, like the best form of myself."

Waddell was back on the ski slopes on a mono-ski, a ski in which both feet are attached parallel to the board, a few months after his accident. He set his goals high, determined to focus on the positive aspects of his disability.

"That was my full intention, that I was going to be a world-class skier," Waddell told Roberts. "I was going to be the best in the world."

He eventually competed in the Albertville, Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake Paralympics Games, winning 12 gold medals for mono-skiing and one gold medal for wheelchair racing in the Sydney games. He became the most decorated paralympian in U.S. history.

But at the apex of his career, he decided to retire and set his sights on his next goal: Kilimanjaro.

"This thought just popped into my head, 'Well, I should just climb Mount Kilimanjaro,'" Waddell said. "I had no idea if it was possible, but I felt like we had to tell the story."

After months of training, Waddell and his team began the climb in September 2009. On the first day, he climbed 3,000 feet of elevation, arriving at camp ahead of schedule. He defied expectations as he cranked through miles of difficult terrain with the help of porters, who placed boards under his wheels to make the trails passable.

Amanda Stoddard, who directed One Revolution, told 20/20 the porters were amazed by Waddell.

"They were astounded," Stoddard said. "There was a word on the mountain that the porters called Chris. I translated it as nguvu-man: superman."

But for Waddell, making it to the top meant more than just defining himself as superhuman. It meant changing the perceptions of disabled people, a message he shares through his One Revolution Foundation and Nametags programs.

"One Revolution is the idea that something small, that one turn of the crank, can lead to something big," he said. "Hopefully, it can lead to something else, to this idea of change in how we see ourselves.

Waddell hopes that his accomplishments will make an impact on perceptions of the disabled community.

"I want to change the way that the world sees people with disabilities," Waddell said. "It's not what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens to you."

Learn more about Chris Waddell and find out what "kryptonite" almost derailed his climb to the top on a special "Super Humans" edition of ABC's 20/20 Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio