Saturday, September 26, 2009

Paralympics involves advocacy as well as sports

From The Gazette in Colorado Springs:

When Kirk Bauer (pictured) arrived in Vietnam, he wanted to become a decorated soldier. When he departed, he just wanted some normalcy back in his life, his left leg blown to pieces by a hand grenade during a 1969 ambush.

As Bauer underwent rehabilitation, several Vietnam veterans suggested he try skiing. He hadn’t been released from the hospital, and he wasn’t confident in his ability to perform.

“You’re learning how to ski today,” Disabled Sports USA leaders told Bauer. “But a year from now, you could be racing. Here’s how you do it.”

Four decades later, Bauer is spreading the same message that motivated him to begin ski racing with help from U.S. Paralympics, which hopes to create more opportunities for the disabled through an adaptive sports seminar this week at the Olympic Training Center.

About 30 million Americans, including 2.6 million under 21, have physical disabilities or visual impairments, yet participation in 100-plus Paralympic sports clubs remains limited, and 24 Paralympic teams are lacking depth compared to their European counterparts.

“We don’t have to say anything,” said Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA. “All we have to do is expose that young kid to a Paralympic athlete who is going 60 mph down a slope on one leg.

“… It gives them inspiration and hope that they can do that.”