The need for the participation of disabled persons in sports has been realized since long ago, and it was in 1888 that a club for the deaf was founded in Berlin, Germany for this purpose. The first International Athletics Competition for the Disabled was held in Paris, France in the year 1924. In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act prohibited to exclude the participation of any disabled person from any government-funded program. Athletes with disabilities are classified by their disabilities and compete in relevant categories. For example, category 11-13 belongs to the visually impaired and 41-46 is specific for those with an amputation.
1. Natalie du Toit
Natalie du Toit was born in Cape Town, South Africa on January 29, 1984. She got her early education from Wynberg High School and participated in international swimming when she was only 14. As a consequence of an accident she had on her scooter colliding with a car, her left leg was amputated at the knee in February, 2001. How resolute and determined she is! She restarted swimming prior to being able to walk again. She swims without the artificial limb. She won two gold medals in the 2004 Paralympics and Commonwealth Games. She participated in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Natalie du Toit is one of the two qualified Olympians. She ranked 16th in the 10K Marathon Swim.
2. Natalia Partyka
Natalia Partyka was born in Gdank, Pomrskie, Poland on July 27, 1989. She was born without her left forearm. She is a Paralympics champion in singles 2004 and 2008. She is also one of the only two qualified Olympians with disabilities. The other one is Natalie du Toit who participated in swimming. She had participated in both types of events intended for the able-bodied and the athletes with disabilities. In 2006 Natalia Partyka won two gold medals in a European championship organized by the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation). In 1999 she won her first gold medal in international table tennis, and from then onwards she has been continuously ranked number one in Para Sports and ranked within the top 50 of the competitions for the able-bodied. She is result oriented and she says, ‘I am not thinking if I am already or if I will be in the future the best player ever. I think that’s possible. I’ve won many titles, but I’m still pretty young, so we will see that in a few years. I’d like to be the best, and that’s why I’m spending so many hours in the practice hall.’
3. Marla Runyan
Marla Lee Runyan was born in Santa Maria, California, U.S.A. on January 4, 1969. She suffered from Stargardt’s disease, an inherited medical condition of the eye causing a juvenile degeneration of the central portion of the retina with the consequent loss of sharp vision which progressed to the point of legal blindness. Maria Runyan is legally blind. Those suffering from Stargardt’s disease can discriminate between glare and haze but cannot see. Not discouraged by her disability, she participated in the 1992 Paralympics and won three sprint competitions and one long jump. In the Pan American Games held in 1999, she won the 500 meters event and emerged as a world championship finalist.
4. April Holmes
April Holmes was born in Somerdale, NJ, U.S.A. on March 11, 1973. During a train accident, she lost her left leg below the knee. Recalling it she said, ‘I had a life-altering incident in January, 2001 that changed my life. And, by the grace of God, I have been able to get back to doing what I love, and that’s track and field.’ Dr. Delong, the orthopedic surgeon who treated her during the emergency, spoke about her Paralympics interest and encouraged her with it, so she made up her mind to go for it. Through hard work, a focused approach, and a commitment to achieve her goals, she wrote the defining notes in the history of sports. She made records in the 100, 200, and 400 meter events. For the sake of completeness and to live her life to its fullest potential, she has set up a non-profit organization, the April Holmes Foundation, to help people with learning or physical disabilities while being a role model for them.
5. Trischa Zorn
Trischa was born blind and got her higher education at the University of Nebraska and now teaches third and fourth grade special children. She took the Paralympics oath in 1996 and participated in the Summer Paralympics held in Atlanta. She had participated in numerous events including the 2000 and 2004 Paralympic Games. She has eight world records in her disability category which include: 50 m. backstroke, 100 m. backstroke, 200 m. backstroke, 400 m. medley, and others. She is the most successful gold medalist as she won 55 medals at the Paralympic Games, and 41of them are gold medals. Eight athletes were center stage during the New Year celebrations on January 1, 2005 in Times Square, New York to honor them, and Zorn was one of them.
6. Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born in Sandston, Johansburg, Transvaal Province (currently Gauteng Province), South Africa, November 22, 1986. Pistorius has a double amputation, and he is the world record holder n the 100, 200 and 400 m. in sports Class T44. The IAFF reviewed and amended some of the rules following comments from certain corners that his amputated lower limbs gave him an unfair advantage over the others. In 2007, the use of any technical device like springs, wheels, etc. which could give an athlete an advantage over the other competitors not using such a device or mechanism was banned according to the new rules. On May 16, 2008 the decision was reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sports ruling that Pistorius had no such advantage. On July 19, 2011 having finished 400 m. in 45.07, he achieved the ‘A’ qualifying standard for the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympics.
7. Ivy Granstrom
Ivy Granstrom was born in 1911 and lived until April 14, 2004. She is one of the most remarkable women in the history of sports. She was born with impaired vision and got a serious back injury at the age of 60 during a car accident. She participated in chilly English Bay swimming events for a consecutive 76 years and was therefore sometimes known as the Queen of the Polar Bear Swims. Ivy was inducted to the Terry Fox Hall of Fame in 2001. She broke 2 Pan Am Masters Championship records and 3 World Masters Games records in 1994. In the year 1988, the remarkable sportsperson, Ivy Granstrom, was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada.
8. Gerry Hewson
Gerry Hewson was born in Young, New South Wales, Australia on June 5, 1958. He was a member of Australian men’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team. From 1988 to 2000, he participated in four Paralympic Games and won a gold medal in the 1996 Summer Paralympics. He had been coaching for the West Sydney Razorbacks from 2004 to 2006. He was named as a lifetime member in recognition of the efforts he made for the promotion of wheelchair basketball. Discussing about the appeal of wheelchair baseketball, Gerry Hewson commented that, ‘There is a coating at the edge of the rim that actually lights up like a spark, and it stays for about two, three seconds. So that kind of splashes around the place every now and then. So that is quite exciting, and lots of smashing and banging of chairs and people falling out, it is great fun.’
9. Tanni Grey-Thompson
Tanni Grey-Thompson was born in Cardiff, Wales on July 26, 1969. She was born with a spinal disorder and uses a wheelchair. Her birth name is Carys Davina Grey. She graduated from Loughborough University in 1991. She is regarded as the most successful Paralympic athlete In the UK. She holds more than 30 world records in Paralympics. She won 11 gold medals and 5 other medals. In recognition of her contributions to the disabled sports, she was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) and is, therefore, entitled for the honorific title The Right Honorable Lady Grey Thompson and Baroness Grey Thompson.
10. Shauna Maria Whyte
Shauna Maria Whyte was born in Hinton, Alta on September 19, 1967. She won many awards in cross-country skiing competitions since 1975. She also won the Alberta Cup Championship and the Junior Women’s Biathlon Championship. She fell from her horse during a horse riding competition on May 18, 1991. She did not surrender to this radical change in her life, and she started using a sit sled. In Norway, she trained with the famous multifold medalist Ragnhild Myklebust.
Being a sportsperson is not conditional with one’s being able-bodied because not all the able-bodied are sportspersons. Similarly, being disabled does not mean that one cannot be a sportsperson. In fact, it is someone’s inherent urge and athletic capability and not their physical ability only that determines the degree of excellence achievable in one or the other form of athletics.