The 2016 Paralympic Games drew to a close last weekend. Sunday’s closing ceremonies in Rio paid homage to cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, a member of the 2016 Iranian Paralympic Cycling Team, who died last week after crashing his bike during a race. The tragedy in Rio was felt acutely within the community of Paralympic athletes, and marred an otherwise joyous and celebratory two-week period.
Team USA athletes who competed in the Paralympics this year had a tragic event to mark, too, as they observed the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The significance of the 9/11 anniversary carries extra weight for members of Team USA who are veterans of the U.S. military.
Nearly all athletes competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games have persevered in the face of disabling setbacks, injury, illness, and stigma, and this is especially true for the 31 veterans who were part of the U.S. Paralympic Team this year.
The Paralympics have helped the VA raise awareness for American veterans and the attention devoted to veterans has, in turn, raised the profile of Paralympic sports in general. The way we think about disabled athletes and the way disabled athletes are depicted in American culture has evolved since the first Paralympic Games were held in 1948.
Nonetheless, wounded veterans still face enormous challenges which hinder their rehabilitation and route to recovery. Many have endured physical injuries, such as visual impairments and amputations, as well as less visible struggles like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
The Paralympic Games offer an opportunity to celebrate the resilience and athletic achievements of American veterans and those who are currently serving. Below I’ve featured several U.S. veterans and active-duty athletes who competed on the U.S. Paralympic Team in Rio last month: