I’m Proud to Support My Friends in the Paralympic Games

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by Halsey Blocher |

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After an extra year of waiting, the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway! I’m generally not much of a sports fan, but I always look forward to the Olympics.

Even for those of us who don’t usually watch sports, at least one event will spark our interest. I am especially fond of watching the gymnasts skillfully soar through the air.

In addition to the Olympics, I’m also excited to watch the Paralympics, which begin on Aug. 24. NBC Universal announced it will show a record-breaking amount of Paralympics footage, including prime-time highlights for the first time in history.

This increase in Paralympics coverage is a gold-medal victory for the global disability community. Paralympians train hard to earn a place in the games, and they are deserving of this additional representation and recognition.

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While I genuinely enjoy watching several of the events, I also follow the Paralympics because of a personal connection: Some of the athletes on Team USA are my friends.

There are quite a few competitors and future Paralympic hopefuls from here in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and nearby towns. Even athletes who don’t live here frequently visit. It’s an ideal location to train for multiple adaptive sports because Turnstone, the local disability center, is one of only seven designated Paralympic training facilities in the U.S.

Turnstone isn’t just a place for some of the world’s most elite athletes, though. Disabled individuals and their families come to Turnstone for all sorts of services and activities, such as recreational sports, therapy, social events, crafts, and more.

I’ve been a client in various programs at Turnstone for 20 years, and I also serve as a volunteer in several departments. While I’m rolling through the halls to different activities, I often cross paths with the athletes who will be competing for gold next month, and I’ve had many opportunities to watch them compete at Turnstone. In 2019, my nurse and I volunteered to greet spectators for the goalball qualifier, where the U.S. women’s team secured their place in Tokyo.

Goalball is one of my favorite Paralympic sports. I once heard someone ask a goalball player to describe the sport to someone who had never seen it. The reply was, “You don’t.” It’s the kind of thing you best understand after you’ve seen it. (You can learn more about goalball here, and I encourage you to watch a few matches.)

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I’ve never gotten involved in the adaptive sports that Turnstone offers, except for the cheer squad many years ago, but I still love supporting my friends that do. It’s fitting that cheerleading was my childhood sport of choice, because uplifting others is something that comes naturally to me. Today, I don’t struggle to try to wave pompoms with my spaghetti arms, but I’ll always gladly root for my friends in their own endeavors. We all need someone to cheer us on in sports and in life.

I also love the opportunities I have to interact with members of various teams, even when I’m not watching them practice or compete. Some are clients in the same programs as I am, while others have jobs or internships at Turnstone. So, it’s unusual when I don’t see an athlete or two while I’m there.

Turnstone has a knack for bringing together many different types of people. I don’t play sports, but I still get to share a space with people who do. And that’s one of the coolest things about places like Turnstone. Everyone who goes there has different abilities, talents, and interests, but that doesn’t prevent us from joyfully gathering together under one roof, much like the people who gather for the Olympics and the Paralympics.

I’m grateful that our community has a place where writers with SMA, Paralympic athletes, and so many others can find common ground, become friends, and celebrate the things that make us different.

To all of my friends and the rest of Team USA, good luck in Tokyo!

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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