The Paralympic Winter Games are underway in Beijing, China. More than 650 Para athletes are competing in 78 events. Five Para athletes are from Minnesota.
The official motto, “Together for a Shared Future” is one embraced by Gillette Children’s and our families.
Senior advisor to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Kara Buckley, is the co-author of “Pure Grit: Stories of Remarkable People Living with Physical Disability.” The book is published by Gillette Children’s Healthcare Press. Buckley and co-author Lily Collison say the book, like the Paralympic Games, is an opportunity to showcase people accommodating a disability while pursuing their dreams.
“The Paralympic Games are an opportunity to increase eyeballs and conversation,” Buckley says.
“These games can shine a light on disability in a positive way and that’s one of my favorite things about sport.” Buckley personally saw a cultural shift when the Paralympic Games were held in London in 2012. “London just really embraced the games and the athletes, and as a result, it really changed the way people in England talked about and thought about people who have a disability.”
One of the main areas of focus for Buckley in her work is to ensure sponsorship and marketing opportunities for Para athletes. She says big corporations are interested in athletes who can showcase more than just their performance in sports. Buckley says companies are looking for athletes of all abilities who can be role models and share a story of strength and perseverance.
An extra hurdle for Para athletes
Buckley would like to see increased support and sponsorships for Para athletes. “All athletes at the Olympic level are dedicated to achieving their best performance. It would be helpful to assist these Para athletes and ease their financial pressures.”
Para athletes who are successful in getting sponsorships face a hurdle that other athletes do no have to worry about. “Many Para athletes can’t accept some sponsorship deals because of income limits in some states,” Buckley says. “Many of these athletes participate in state programs to help with their care. A majority of states have income limitations so these athletes with sponsorships could be at risk for losing their health care. I really feel like this is a disincentive to work,” Buckley says.
Buckley and her co-author, Lily Collison, would like to see more equity and opportunities for people who have a disability.
Collison had read the research into this issue and found that compared to the general population, people with spastic diplegia, a common type of cerebral palsy, have lower rates of employment, relationships and having children. Collison says, “When I read this research it bothered me so much.” Collison’s adult son, Tommy, is diagnosed with spastic diplegia and is a Gillette Children’s patient. Collison adds, “It’s astonishing that people with just a mild or moderate disability with no cognitive impairment have lower rates of participation in society.”
Representation matters and inspires
The book, “Pure Grit” includes stories of about 19 people who have summoned their own “grit” to find a place for themselves in society. Kara Buckley says the initial spark for the book was inspired by the story of Elizabeth Kolbe Hardcastle. When she was 14, Elizabeth was paralyzed in a car accident. “Elizabeth had to shift her own life story from limitations to possibilities,” Buckley says.
According to Buckley, when Elizabeth was around 16, she spotted a billboard of a Harvard student graduating in a wheelchair, and it changed her life. The image inspired Elizabeth to make her own goals and push her expectations. Elizabeth eventually graduated from Harvard and went on to swim in the Paralympic Games in 2008.
“When Lily and I heard about Elizabeth’s story,” Buckley recalls, “We thought there needs to be a book that showcases role models. We have stories from athletes, business leaders, and others.”
The stories in “Pure Grit” have a common thread. “In everyone’s story there is a person who believed in them and championed them,” Buckley says. “The parents in this book did not ‘bubble wrap’ their kid. They took them to the playground and let them fall down. They let them play sports and did not coddle them too much. It was an interesting theme to discover.”
The book, like the Paralympic Games, includes people living with various disabilities. “These stories have many nuggets and lessons that people can relate to,” Buckley says.
What to watch for at the Games
Buckley is looking forward to seeing the sled hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.
One of the stars of the wheelchair curling team has a Minnesota connection. Batoyun “Oyuna” Uranchimeg works at the University of St. Thomas journalism school. She was born and raised in Mongolia. During a 2000 visit to Minnesota, she was in a car accident and sustained an injury that left her paralyzed below the waist. Uranchimeg lives in Burnsville, Minnesota and took up curling in 2016. She made her world championship debut in 2021 and is now the Lead on the U.S. wheelchair curling team.
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