Paralympians deserve more media attention and supporters

Over the weekend I asked my friends, family members and random strangers about their thoughts on the Paralympics. Let’s take a look at some of the responses:

“Yep, those are cool, but not exactly my thing.”

“The Para-what?”

“Yeah, I don’t even watch the Olympics. You really think I’m going to watch the Paralympics?”

“Oh you mean the Special Olympics, right?”

“Bayci, the Olympics were over two weeks ago, chill out for another four years.”

These answers got me pretty upset, though I can’t really blame anyone.

The Paralympics are barely covered by the media, especially in the U.S. These star athletes are not taken seriously and not given nearly enough of the respect they deserve.

Have you ever heard the names Tatyana McFadden, Joshua George or Amanda McGrory? These are current and former Illinois athletes representing Team USA in the Paralympics — some of the best Paralympians out there.

You’ve probably seen them rolling around campus and have had no idea that they are some of the best athletes at Illinois. McFadden has won six Paralympic medals, while George and McGrory have won four each.

These track stars are at the forefront of Illinois’ domination on Team USA’s Paralympic team; 29 Illinois athletes are competing in the Paralympics. The sad thing is no one knows who they are or what they represent.

A change needs to happen now with the amount of respect and recognition these Paralympians receive. This can kickoff with the 2012 London Games, which began Aug. 29 and will conclude Sept. 16 at the same venues where the Olympics were held.

Don’t worry, it’s OK if you don’t know much about the Paralympics. I’m here to give you a crash course on everything you need to know so you can be Paralympic savvy for the final two weeks of competition.

The Paralympic Games is an exclusive and competitive athletic competition for athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities, including amputations, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, visual impairment and spinal injuries.

The athletes are sorted into six classification groups based on the nature and severity of their disabilities. Athletes must fulfill criteria and meet qualifying standards determined by the International Paralympic Committee to compete in the games.

There are 20 Paralympic sports during the summer games and five in the winter. The events are held weeks after each Olympics in the same location and medals are awarded in the same manner.

The Paralympics are more competitive than the Special Olympics, which are designed with the purpose of inclusion and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. People with physical disabilities can also participate.

The Paralympics are important because these are some of the best athletes in the world that just happen to be competing with a disability. Not only do these individuals dedicate their lives to training as elite athletes but they also overcome disabilities. Take every Olympic story and crank the drama by three and you’ll find yourself the average Paralympian.

Usain Bolt won the 200-meter dash this year with a time of 19.32 seconds. Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira of Brazil won the T44 200 meters in 21.45 on Sunday. That’s not much of a gap.

T44 represents single below-knee amputees, or athletes who can walk with moderately reduced function in one or both legs.

These athletes are nearly as talented as the Olympians and the events are just as thrilling to watch.

It would be better if the Paralympics were before the Olympic Games instead of after. Then the Paralympics could serve as a precursor to the Olympics and help people get excited for the Olympics.

What would be even better is if the Paralympics were held in conjunction with the Olympics. Imagine watching Ellie Simmonds win the Paralympic gold in the 400-meter free S6 (a swimmer with full use of arms and hands, but no useful leg muscles) and then watching Rebecca Adlington and Allison Schmitt in the 400 free. That would be phenomenal.

That’s just wishful thinking, though; for now, we have to take what we can get.

This year marks the first time the Paralympics are broadcast on American television. NBC Sports Network will air one-hour highlight shows on Sept. 4, 5, 6 and 11 at 6 p.m. CST. NBC will also air a 90-minute Paralympic special at 1 p.m. on Sept. 16. Additionally, Paralympic.org has extensive live coverage with more than 1,000 hours of live and delayed coverage available on its website.

Considering the 5,535 total hours of NBC Olympic coverage, this seems like a needle in a haystack. But every little bit counts, and this is better than ever before.

Now is your chance to take advantage of this coverage. You can make a difference by tuning in for just a little bit and proving to the NBC executives that, yes, it is a good idea to devote more coverage to the Paralympics in the future.

I know you’re busy, I know syllabus week killed your productivity level and I know you might be America-ed out after watching a million hours of the Olympics, but give it a chance. Turn on NBC Sports Network on Tuesday and watch the highlights show. Take an hour to appreciate these athletes and how they are representing our country. Make a difference in the future of Paralympics coverage because these athletes deserve our respect and admiration.

_Emily is a graduate student. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @EmilyBayci._