Paralympians Complete Preparations in London
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
LONDON, Aug. 28, 2012 Members of the U.S. Paralympic team completed their team processing and remain focused amid growing anticipation for the 2012 Paralympic Games here.
Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder, a member of the U.S. Paralympic swimming team, watches as some of his personal items are packed for shipping back to the United States as part of team processing prior to the start of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Aug. 28, 2012. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Paralympic Games, held every four years following the Summer Olympics, are a multisport event for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities.
More than 200 Paralympians, staged at the University of East London campus, are prepared to compete in 20 sporting events, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby, swimming, shooting and sailing as they serve as American ambassadors for their respective sports.
“It's an amazing experience,” said Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder, a member of the 2012 U.S. Paralympic swimming team. “It's a lot of things happening at once. It can be a little overwhelming. You come to processing and they hand you $3,000 worth of apparel and things like that. It's a lot happening at once.”
Snyder, slated to swim in seven events, compared the excitement of competing in front of large crowds with his previous experience as a competitor.
“The swimming venue, I think, holds 18,000 people, so everyone's running through their heads, 'What's it going to be like to swim in front of 18,000 people?'” he said. “I was a collegiate athlete for four years [and] I swam for 12 years. I think the largest crowd I ever swam in front of was in the hundreds. To be able to go out in front of 18,000 people is going to be an amazing experience.
“It's been a challenge, I think, to … stay focused on what we're trying to stay focused on, and at the same time, utilize the adrenaline rush we're going to have to our advantage.” he added.
Michael Prout Jr., of West Springfield, Mass., also a member of the swimming team, will compete in the 100-meter butterfly, backstroke and freestyle, 200-meter individual medley and the 400-meter freestyle.
“For the past two years, I've been living out in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center with the resident team out there,” he said. “There's nine of us, actually, that made the Paralympic team this time around from that area. I was out there just training full-time instead of focusing on anything else. I think that is going to help out a lot.”
Prout noted even though he's competed in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, and in Beijing in 2008, he still feel the excitement of the approaching competition.
“It's been crazy,” he said. “We've been training in Germany for the past week and a half, and we just got into the village yesterday. And we've been going back and forth trying to get training in and coming over for all the fitting of apparel.
“Today's been crazy, but it's been a lot of fun,” he continued. “And we're getting so much cool stuff that I think we're all pretty overwhelmed with everything still.”
The biggest thing, he said, is trying to stay focused and establishing a good routine while helping the rest of the team stay on the same page.
With 227 Paralympians processing through the campus, many needing assistance, it would be nearly impossible without volunteers such as Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandi Campbell to assist the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Campbell, who serves in an orthopedic clinic with the 48th Mission Support Group in Lakenheath, England, had such a strong desire to help that she used leave to augment three days of permissive temporary duty to help with team processing.
“An email went out to everyone to give you an option that you'd be able to choose to help with the Olympics or the Paralympics, or you could do both,” she said. “I chose the Paralympics just because they work with our duty section, and to get to work with these people is a blessing.
“They're amazing,” she added. “They have to overcome so much that to work with them and hear their stories, get to meet them, get to see their coaches -- I [wouldn't] trade it for anything.”
Campbell said she was also excited when she learned the rugby team was from her hometown of Portland, Ore.
Part of the team processing duties, Campbell said, is passing out brand-name apparel and accessories provided by sponsors to the athletes.
“The athletes get 99 items [each],” she said. “I get to see the joy on their face when they get to see everything they get.”
Campbell helps the athletes try on the apparel, and said it can take up to 20 attempts for some to get the right fit.
“But to see their face at the end of the day [and] to know that you helped them is perfect,” she said.