Paralympic athletes on letting no one sit on sport’s sidelines.

By Genevieve Kyle.

For Justin Phongsavanh and Cindy Housner, the Olympics aren’t the world’s largest sporting event. Phongsavanh, who competes as a track and field athlete, and Housner, the owner of an adaptive sports club, are more focused on the Paralympics and what they can do to change the world’s perception of the event.  

As the crowning jewel of athletic events, the Olympics sees the world’s most elite athletes display their capabilities for their country’s name. However, as the event begins to dwindle, preparations for the Paralympic games intensify. Since 1960, the Paralympics have been seen as the follow-up to the Olympics, taking place two weeks after the colossal sporting event. The games give physically disabled athletes the ability to display their robust athletic skills, proving that the physically disabled can achieve greatness just like non-disabled people.  

To Phongsavanh, the event has become crucial to his journey. Attacked outside of a Mcdonald’s in 2015, Phongsavanh suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down, an event that led him to Paralympics. After a lack of desire to play wheelchair basketball, Phongsavanh came across track and field through his local adaptive sports club, a recreational center that provides disabled people with the resources to compete in athletic events. 

Since then, Phongsavanh has obtained a gold medal at the Parapan American Games in Peru in 2019, placed 4th at the World Championships in Dubai, and earned a spot on Team USA for Track and field. And through it all, he has advocated for the importance of the Paralympics. As Phongsavanh states over email to Mission, “not many people in the United States know about the Paralympics! Everyone knows about the Olympics, but very few know about the Paralympics. Whenever someone thinks “disabled Olympics,” they assume they mean the special Olympics.” 

Adaptive club owner Cindy Housner agrees, “for the Paralympics, there lies a lack of understanding of the perception of the athletes. Many understand that these individuals are athletic, but once the general public sees the Paralympic athletes competing, they will be able to understand them as parallel to Olympic athletes.” 

Despite the lack of awareness surrounding the Paralympic games, there are a multitude of resources to help disabled athletes. Housner runs a sports club named GLASA (Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association). With a motto reading “Let no one sit on the sidelines,” the organization encourages individuals of all ages to be active while allowing athletes to train for the Paralympic games. As Glass concentrates on “letting no one sit on the side lines,” other organizations such as Born To Run, Never Say NeverMove United, and Team Catapult, continue to work towards granting Paralympians their much-deserved glory. The 2021 Paralympic games commence on August 24th and warrant our attention. 

Image credit: Cindy Housner