Entries in Paralympics (3)


Teen Without Legs, Only One Arm Competes in World Championships

Courtesy Joyce Wheeler(LYNWOOD, Wash.) -- Born without legs and only one arm, Kayla Wheeler, a 16-year-old high school student from Lynnwood, Wash., is gearing up to compete in the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships this August in Montreal. She's one of 25 American swimmers who has qualified to represent team USA.

"I'm just excited to see all of them. It's fun, and it fills me with joy to know that I am going to be spending two weeks of my life with some of the best swimmers in the world," Wheeler told ABC News.

Wheeler will compete in the S-1 class, which is the Paralympics category for those who are the most disabled. It includes only two other swimmers.

"I am basically the most disabled you can be and still swim," Wheeler said.

It was at the Can/Am Para-Swimming Championship last month in Minneapolis where Kayla broke her own record, with a time of 1:30 in the 50-meter butterfly.

"I broke it twice, once in the morning and once in finals. It was my own world record already, and I broke it again. It still feels really awesome," she said. Wheeler came away from the meet as female swimmer of the day for all three days of competition, and female swimmer of the meet, earning three gold medals in every division she competed in.

Wheeler got her swimming start at the age of 8 months, after a doctor suggested that she try hydrotherapy to help her learn how to balance her body and sit up.

"As an infant she loved the water," her mother, Joyce Wheeler, told ABC News. "I guess I never thought she would learn how to swim, but I just wanted her to be safe around the water."

That's when Joyce Wheeler set out to find someone who could give her daughter real swimming lessons. Amy Rust, coach of the Barracudas swim team in Edmonds, Wash., took on that challenge, propelling Wheeler into her swimming career.

When she was 10 years old, Wheeler joined the Shadow Seal Swim Club. Accredited by USA Swimming, the club offers swimmers with disabilities opportunities to compete.

"I had my eye on Kayla [Wheeler] about two years before she joined my team, Kiko Van Zandt, a coach and pediatric rehabilitation clinic nurse at Seattle Children's Hospital, told ABC News.

"She [Wheeler] is a role model to people not only with disabilities, but also able-bodied people too," Van Zandt said. "At a recent local meet, she got the crowd going and people were seeing that if she can do it, then my kid can do it too."

Wheeler inspired close friend Breanna Sprenger, an 11-year-old from Avon, Ohio, born with the same disabilities as Wheeler. The two met through the International Child Amputee Network. Sprenger now competes with Wheeler and an Australian athlete in the S-1 category for the most disabled.

"I actually taught her how to swim," said Wheeler. "I showed her parents the fact that it was possible for her to swim. So now she is competitively swimming and following in my footsteps so to speak. We call each other the body twins. She calls me her mentor and I call her my mentee."

Over the past six years, Wheeler has competed at the Can /Am Para-Swimming Championships, the World Championships in Rio de Janeirio, where she took home a bronze medal, the World Championships in the Netherlands, as well as the 2012 Paralympic Trials last June in North Dakota, where she won female swimmer of the meet. That qualified her for the 2012 Paralympics in London.

But she couldn't compete in London, because there were not enough swimmers for her to compete against in her category -- there must be at least five swimmers from two different countries for there to be a race.

"The classifications get a little frustrating," said her mother Joyce Wheeler. "She started in the S-3 class. At the beginning she was at the top of the class and the more people who came in bumped her down at the bottom of the class. There are not than many people in her S-1 swimming class. She is out there beating her own records and times."

But Wheeler's goals -- and talents -- stretch beyond competitive swimming. She was recently named the 2012 USA Swimming Scholastic All-American, earning a grade point average of a 3.8, while taking classes at her high school and a local community college through the Running Start program.

"I eventually want to go through law school and eventually become a disability rights right attorney," said Wheeler. When Wheeler is not in the pool or studying, she enjoys snow skiing, playing baseball and being on her high school's rocketry and robotics teams.

She also helps to coach nondisabled kids to swim. "The youngest person I have helped was in pre-K, and the oldest was 11 or 12 years old," Wheeler said.

"I want to continue as long as I physically can continue, and I am hoping to make the 2016 Rio Paralympic team," said Wheeler. "I think a lot of it is just going to depend on if they can get a lot of S-1 swimmers from other countries. As of now, my times are good enough, but now it's going to depend on how many people they are going to get onto the team.

"My parents have always taught me that I can do anything that I put my mind to," said Wheeler. So I just put my mind to it."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Salutes US Olympic and Paralympic Teams at White House

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama welcomed the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House Friday, telling them they are “a portrait of what this country is all about.”

“You guys all find the strength to keep pushing on good days and bad days, because you believe that no matter where we come from, or no matter what hand we’ve been dealt in life, with enough effort, there is no limit to how far we can go,” the president told the large crowd of athletes gathered on the White House South Lawn.

“That’s what sets all of you apart.  That’s what sets America apart.  We celebrate individual effort, but we also know that, together, we can do incredible things that we couldn’t accomplish on our own,” he said.

The president was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama, who led the U.S. delegation to the Summer Games in London, in saluting the nation’s finest athletes.

“I had so much fun with everyone over in London that when I got home, I told Barack that we had to invite everybody over to the house,” Michelle Obama said.

The president admitted he was “pretty jealous” that his wife got to go to the games, “but like millions of Americans, I had almost as much fun just following you guys from here.”

“I usually work pretty late, but I’ve mastered the DVR,” he quipped. “It was a great way to end the day, watching you guys do things that I did not think were humanly possible.”

After his wife returned to Washington, the president, an avid sports fan and exercise enthusiast, said he and the first lady would talk about the games while they worked out in the morning.

“We’d talk about, did you see that thing?” he recounted. “That was unbelievable. …  And then I’d jog on the treadmill,” he said, making fun of his own athletic prowess.

The president said that he was not supposed to shake everyone’s hands because of his tight schedule but vowed to “break the rule” and do it anyway, which he did.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Secretary Panetta Pays Tribute to ‘Wounded Warriors’

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta welcomed 50 wounded service men and women who participated in this year’s Warrior Games competition at a recognition ceremony Monday at the Pentagon. The competition is an annual event hosted by the United States Olympic Committee and supported by the Department of Defense.

Five teams of wounded, ill and injured military members and veterans chosen from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command compete with each other, and this year against British soldiers. In Colorado Springs last month, the athletes vied for medals in swimming, archery, track and  field, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, shooting, and cycling.

“These men and women, who overcome immense odds to suddenly come and compete in these games, represents, I believe, the strength, the integrity, the character of many American service members who have persevered in the face of huge challenges, challenges that they’ve had to recover from the wounds of war,” said Panetta.

Panetta told the story of Navy Lt. Brad Snyder who was blinded by an IED explosion last year in Afghanistan while serving as a bomb disposal technician.  Lt. Snyder competed in last month’s games and won a total of seven gold medals; three in track and four in swimming. Panetta also highlighted Lt. Snyder’s achievement of setting the new world  record for vision-impaired athletes in both the 100 meter and the 400 meter freestyle at last week’s U.S. Paralympics swimming trials. He’ll compete in the Paralympics Games in London on Sept. 7 -- exactly one year to the day of his injury.

“Brad, we’re all in awe of your determination and your personal spirit,” Panetta said, turning to the young man in the audience. “And all of us are going to be cheering your success in London. God bless you,” he said to crowd applause and cheers.

The secretary then presented each of the 50 athletes with a Secretary of Defense coin, and took an individual picture with the beaming young men and women, as their friends and families applauded. Panetta also thanked the United Services Organization, the Fisher House Foundation, the Semper Fi Fund, Team Semper Fi, Army Homefront Fund and ABC correspondent Bob Woodruff’s Foundation for their work with wounded service men and women and veterans.

The secretary said he will travel to Texas later this week to visit recently wounded military members who are recovering at Brook Army Medical Center. Panetta said he will take the stories of the Wounded Warrior athletes with him to help inspire those service men and women struggling to recover.

“I often meet these extraordinary young men and women just days after they’ve been wounded in battle. In that acute phase of recovery, I know that it’s hard for some to imagine ever competing for an athletic event,” said Panetta. "Yet the will, the sheer guts to overcome the wounds, to overcome the obstacles that face these warrior athletes, their determination to return to a new normal, is not just inspiring; it is nothing short of a miracle.”

Panetta is not the only influential figure to honor the Wounded Warriors. Last month Prince Harry was in Washington as a special guest at a reception honoring the British soldiers who participated in this year’s games for the first time.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio