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Monday, March 10, 2014

Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk: Let’s cheer on athletes with disabilities in this year’s Paralympic Games

as appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times ...

BY Sen. Mark Kirk March 6, 2014

On July 29, 1948, 16 injured British servicemen and women participated in an archery competition at the Stoke Mandeville Games, the inspiration for the modern Paralympic Games. Almost 66 years later, Friday marks the beginning of the 26th Paralympic Games, a tradition that celebrates and highlights athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities from around the world. These men and women, veterans, service members and civilians are showing the world that they refuse to let their disabilities define their lives.
As past games have shown, these athletes share with the world their physical strength and incredible motivation — all while facing challenges that many people would consider to be debilitating. As someone who knows firsthand the difficulties that come with physical rehabilitation and having to re-learn many everyday tasks, I am all too familiar with the daily struggles that these athletes have faced. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws and policies our country has in place, I have not been sidelined by my disabilities. But many countries do not have the accommodations and standards that our nation does — and for those traveling abroad, like our wounded warriors, the uncertainty of access and ease can be incredibly stressful.
Sixteen veterans and two active-duty military members are competing in this year’s Paralympic Games. They account for almost a quarter of the American team competing in Sochi. Many of these individuals served our nation during recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and represent a generation of veterans taking advantage of new technologies, therapies and resources that our nation is providing to our returning warriors. This year’s games are a timely reminder of the importance of embracing our nation’s wounded warriors — not turning our back on them when they need our support the most.
Last November, I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the importance of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Our nation must remain the voice for the voiceless, and we must lead the way in ending disability-based discrimination and promote equal access across the globe for every man, woman and child facing a disability.
I want to highlight one athlete in particular who is competing in this year’s Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi — Brody Roybal. Brody, who is from Northlake, is the youngest athlete to compete in this year’s games. He is 15 and a member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. He skated with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s (RIC) Blackhawks team, and has been playing hockey since 2006. Brody’s drive to succeed and excel at hockey is inspiring. I completed my own rehabilitation at RIC; and without the help of the excellent doctors, researchers and therapists, I know that my life today would be much harder.
Please join me in wishing all of this year’s paralympians best of luck in Sochi. I urge you to follow the success of these men and women on my website: http://bit.ly/paralympic-veterans.
Mark Kirk, a Republican, is the junior senator from Illinois.
For more posts on the Soshi Paralympics: CLICK HERE

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