The 2012 Paralympic Games in London kick off today and the University of Alabama has is well represented in this year’s games. Seven athletes from UA’s Adapted Athletics program will compete in wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis. Charlie Katica is head coach for the women’s wheelchair basketball team at UA.
“Everyone who’s here is extremely motivated,” says Katica. “Really the challenges were to almost hold them back at some point just because they were training real hard and really trying to be at their peak for the Paralympics.”
The UA athletes will join more than 1,100 others in the largest international sporting event for athletes with physical disabilities, including Oscar Pistorius. The South African sprint runner, also known as the “Blade Runner,” has a double below-knee amputation. He was the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics and will be competing in this year’s Paralympics as well. Katica says Pistorius is a great advocate for the Paralympic games.
“I think that added to the hype that was going along with the Paralympics,” says Katica. “The awareness for the Paralympics with Oscar there helped bring a little bit more awareness [to the games.]”
Ford Burttram is an assistant coach for men’s wheelchair basketball. He says being a disabled athlete himself, he knows what kind of challenges these competitors face.
“The most difficult thing is to balance doing enough and not overdoing. Being a paraplegic, it takes more time for your body to recover than if you’re an able body athlete. So you have to not push yourself even though you want to push yourself to the extreme every time you train.”
Burttram is also the head coach for UA’s wheelchair golf team. He recalls times when his ability to play, despite his disability, impressed fellow golfers.
“I play golf all the time and people see me on the golf course and they just come over and say ‘hey, I’m so thankful to see you out here,’” says Burttram. “But, people will stop and watch me swing the golf club and I’m out there playing golf by myself and driving my own cart. So I think people are taken back by that and it’s good to see that just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean that you have to sit at home and rely on other people to do stuff for you.”
The Paralympic Games will not be covered live on TV in the U.S., but you can find live streaming of the events at Paralympic.org. Organizers estimate 4 billion people worldwide will tune in to watch the games. They end on September 9th.