One of the most amazing experiences of my life happened this past June while in Virginia Beach with my internship (Disabled Sports USA). It was truly eye opening to see a man with no arms stand surf for the first time, followed by a man with one leg, and then someone normally confined to a wheelchair. Seeing the joy and excitement these wounded military personnel gained from this experience I will never forget. After the event, I needed more, so I applied to volunteer for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. After sending in my application, I thought nothing of it, figured I would never even get a response. Fast forward two months, I am on a phone interview having landed a spot as a photo assistant for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Before I knew it I was on my way to Rio which I only knew for it’s crime and mosquitos. I wasn’t so wrong about the mosquitos, there were a fair amount, but what I wasn’t ready for was how beautiful Rio is. Almost every time I was in a car I was driving along a beach, staring at mountains, or a horizon that looked never ended. For someone traveling solo for the first time, seeing such beautiful sights was very comforting. Despite the fact I worked about 8 hours most days, I would try to explore the city as much as possible. One thing I didn’t realize was how often I would be hiking and how many restaurants they manage to put at the top of mountains. We would wake up early every morning and try to see at least two major tourist spots: Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, the Olympic Mural (which will soon be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest mural done by a single man), the Selaron Steps, and basically anything we heard from locals would be a good idea to check out. Getting the opportunity to see where these people live and how they experience every-day life is something I will never forget. Though there were a lot of negatives in the media surrounding Rio, I experienced a beautiful place everyone should go if given the opportunity.
The international experience is something I will always cherish, but even better is the opportunity to experience the Paralympic Games. The feeling I got in Virginia Beach was only a slight glimpse into seeing these athletes compete at such an elite level. I was able to see most events: wheelchair tennis, swimming, cycling, goal-ball, sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, judo, and of course wheelchair basketball. Seeing athletes who many see as having “limitations” earn medals in their respective sports is inspiring to say the least. There were even events the Paralympic times beat the Olympic times.
One of my favorite parts of the trip is when I accidentally sat next to a Paralympian’s family. I was at the Aquatic Center after work and I saw a group of people in USA shirts so naturally I asked if I could sit with them. It turns out I sat next to Bradley Snyder’s family. Speaking with his brother, I learned the story of how Brad lost his vision by an IED bomb in Afghanistan, then one year later (to the day) he won gold in the London 2012 games. He came in Rio to accomplish the same in the 400m freestyle, and I was able to see him achieve that goal!
Bradley’s story and meeting his family was the most personal I experienced while in Rio, but these incredible stories of overcoming obstacles was something that I was exposed to every day. There was a refugee from Syria competing as an Independent Paralympic Athlete in swimming; a man beat his soon to be father-in-law in wheelchair fencing to win bronze; the top 4 runners in the men’s 1500m beat the Olympic gold medal time; Jessica Long of the USA became the most medaled active Paralympian winning her 23rd medal; and both men and women’s wheelchair basketball won the gold medal. I could keep going with countless stories of world records and individual achievements that happened while I was there, but that list would be far too long.
My experience in Rio watching these incredible stories proved to me that the concept of “No Excuses” we teach at Evolution has meaning beyond what I even knew. Seeing the true meaning of No Excuses is life changing.
Being provided this opportunity, I was able to see something I will cherish forever. While my college basketball career may be over, the lessons from Rio and the motivation to always be my best will never leave me. Regardless of their disability seeing an athlete fight against perception of what many don’t see as possible, is amazing and inspiring to watch. Knowing that each o theses athletes had an increibly difficult journey to get there, the medal podium brings meaning beyond what I’ve ever known. I am not saying others don’t have hardships, obviously everyone does, but I now know that if I can harness a small part of their will and determination, I will achieve amazing things in life just as they have done in theirs.