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Paralympic Games

Paralympic Games

Started in 1948 as a small gathering of British World War II veterans, the Paralympic Games have grown into an international multi-sport competition featuring thousands of athletes with a range of physical disabilities from over 100 nations.

The 27 different Paralympic sports, divided into winter and summer games, are contested by athletes with paraplegia, quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, amputation, dysmelia, ataxia, vision impairment, and other disabilities.  Some Paralympic games are open to athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Events include some you would expect in international competition: skiing, track and field, ice hockey, cycling and table tennis, plus some events unique to the Paralympics such as wheelchair rugby, sitting volleyball, and goalball.

As you might gather from its original name, “murderball”, wheelchair rugby is a rough-and-tumble team sport.  Wheelchair rugby is played indoors on a hardwood floor the same size as a basketball court.  Contact between wheelchairs is a key part of the game, but direct physical contact between players is not allowed.  It is not uncommon for players to smash into each other; in fact, sometimes their wheelchairs tip over during play.

Wheelchair rugby players score points when they carry the ball over the other team’s goal line.  At least two of a player’s wheels must cross the goal line for a score.  Passing and handing the ball to other teammates is allowed.  In fact, it’s a must, as the rules state a player can’t have possession of the ball for more than ten seconds.  Wheelchair rugby is a mixed-gender sport, so both male and female athletes play on the same teams.  Four players from each team may be on the court at any time.

Sitting volleyball is another Paralympic event.  This sport features a 23-foot long net, about two-and-a-half feet wide, set at a height of about three-and-a-half feet.  The rules are the same as the original form of volleyball except that players’ bottoms must be touching the floor whenever they contact the ball.  The same volleyball vocabulary applies and includes words like “spike”( to smash the ball overarm into the opponent's court), “dig” (both arms are placed together in an attempt to bounce a hard-hit ball up into the air), and “kong” (a one-handed block).

A game designed specifically for the visually impaired, goalball is a Paralympic team sport.  Athletes in teams of three attempt to throw a bell-embedded ball into the opponents' goal.  Players must use keen ear-hand coordination to get the ball from one end of the playing area to the other.  They must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball.  Goalball is played indoors, usually on a playing surface measuring the same as a volleyball court.

Just like in the Olympic Games, these, and many other Paralympic events, test the grit and skills of great athletes.

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