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OLYMPIC HISTORY: Promoting the Paralympics

March 20, 2014
By ALISON HAAS , Lake Placid News

I'm going to write something in the next sentence that might raise some eyebrows.

The Sochi Paralympic Games were not treated as an equal event to the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

There, I wrote it.

Article Photos

Students at the Tupper Lake Middle/High School learn how to be Paralympians. (Photo provided)

You might not even know that the Paralympic Games just ended in Sochi on March 16 or that they even happened. It seems as soon as the torch was extinguished in Sochi and the Olympic Winter Games ended on Feb. 23, television companies quickly went back to their regularly scheduled programs on primetime.

However, the Paralympic Games were given more coverage than in past games with NBC presenting an unprecedented 48 hours of coverage on NBCSN, and was streaming all events live. This coverage does represent a turning point in the Paralympic movement, but we still have a long way to go before Paralympians will be treated as equals to Olympians in terms of funding and media coverage.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum aims to tell the world about the Olympic movement and promote the values of Olympic Games. In order to raise awareness of the Paralympic movement, the Lake Placid Olympic Museum is displaying "Spirit in Motion: A Paralympic Photo Exhibition," on loan from the International Paralympic Committee.

The selected 16 images of this exhibition were taken by Lieven Coudenys, an official photographer of the International Paralympic Committee during the Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City 2002, Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010. Coudenys depicts the amazing experiences of the Paralympic Games and raises questions of what it means to be an athlete today.

This exhibit will be on display until April along with adaptive ski equipment and video footage of athletes demonstrating their determination and excellence in their sport.

The Paralympic Winter Games were first held less than 40 years ago in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, in 1976. Sport for athletes with an impairment has existed for more than 100 years; yet it was not until after World War II that it was widely introduced. The purpose of it at that time was to assist the large number of war veterans and civilians who had been injured during wartime, and there was a new outlook on the issue of rehabilitation for people with disabilities.

The origins of the Paralympic Games are credited to neurologist Dr. Ludwig Guttman. In 1944, he opened a medical center at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain for the treatment of people with spinal cord injuries. In time, rehabilitation at the center involved sport which evolved to recreational sport and then to competitive sport.

On the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games in July 1948, Dr. Guttman organized the International Stoke-Mandeville Games for people with injuries. These games were the prototype for the Paralympic Games which first took place in Rome, Italy, in 1960 and have since taken place every four years with the Winter Games beginning 16 years later.

This year during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, athletes competed in six winter sports: alpine skiing and snowboarding, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey and wheelchair curling. Competition in these events accommodates male and female athletes with a physical impairment such as spinal injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, blindness/visual impairment and other conditions.

Recently, museum staff visited the Tupper Lake Middle/High School, attending a physical education class and teaching students about the Paralympic Games. Along with their instructor, Amy Farrell, we had students participate in a snow-less version of cross-country skiing in the gymnasium. Students became visually impaired and competed in an obstacle course with a sighted guide/student.

Later, we equipped students with a rolling apparatus that they sat on to mimic sit-skiing and were only allowed to use their arms to paddle through the course.

Once students perfected their balance on their "sleds" and adjusted to their physical limitations, we turned the ski course into an ice-free arena where they played ice sledge hockey. This quickly turned into a fast-paced and highly physical activity where players used their arms and hockey sticks to move around and pass the puck to one another, hoping to make goals on the other team.

Students were surprised to learn about the Paralympic events and how difficult these activities were for them when given a physical disability. By the end of the class, they had turned into fans of the Paralympic Games.

To learn more about the Paralympics and to see the photo exhibition "Spirit in Motion," please visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ironman Sunday.

For more information about the museum, see our Facebook page.



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