Paralympics - 2004

I place this material into the course, not because it is relevant to Astronomy, but because the experience had such a dramatic influence on me and I now wish to impart to you some of what I have learned from that experience

After coaching a private swim club for 26 years, it was time to retire from the sport and devote more time to my family. During the late summer of 2003, an offer was made to me and the opportunity was almost too incredible to believe. During the spring of 2004, the national team trials for the US Paralympic Swim Team was held in Minneapolis. Out of the many athletes with varying disabilities, 2 swimmers from the team I was coaching were selected to be part of the 2004 National Team, and I was invited to go along. Justin Zook, then an 18 year-old graduate of Maple Grove High School, and Anessa Kemna, then a high school sophomore at Orono were selected to swim in a variety of events. Justin's disability was a birth defect that resulted in tens of surgeries to assist his right in growth, while Anessa had been blinded by corneal cloudiness since her pre-teen years. Mike Prout, and friend of Justin's came to Minneapolis for training during the month of August, permitting me the joy of working with 3 members of the 42-member USA team. Athens, Greece was the host of the Summer 2004 Olympics in late August for able-bodied athletes as well as the host for the 2004 Paralympic Games in September. By definition, the athletes who participate in the Paralympics are physically disabled and not part of the Special Olympics, which are athletic events for those with mental handicaps. The Paralympics are divided into category based on type and extent of disability. There would be over 5000 athletes from 136 countries in Athens, Greece to compete,.

And so it was in September, 2004 that my wife and I accompanied the Zook and Kemna families to Athens, Greece. Below is a short photographic recount of that event.

Opening Ceremonies

Justin, Mike, and I below and left

Anessa and her parents and brother above and right

Cheri Blauwett wheeling to a gold medal in the 800 meters

Athletes from Mexico, Russia, and China - including Travis Mohr below and left

 

Erin Popovich warming up below left, and her brother and parents after Erin won the 6th of 7 gold medals

 

Anessa Kemna, Mike Prout, and Justin Zook swimming races in a succession of pictures below. For Mike and Justin, these were gold medal performances.

 

Gold Medals for Mike Prout, below and left, and for Justin Zook, below and right

 

Tom and Cathy at the Acco Corinth where the Apostle Paul preached, and a view of the Parthenon from our hotel window

In 2008, I had the opportunity to be more than a spectator at the Paralympics. I was given the opportunity to be one of the swim coaches for the US Paralympic Team in Beijing, China. Click on the link to see more. What made this trip so wonderful was that my wife and daughters came to China to watch Justin Zook swim in another Games.