Athletes To Watch During The Tokyo Paralympics

Impaired individuals have been competing in various sports for a long time, and in 1888, the first sports club for the deaf was established in Berlin. Despite this, however, sports competitions for the disabled weren't widely practiced. That all changed, however, after World War II, when plenty of veterans, as well as civilians, had been injured during the war, per the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

At the 1948 Olympic Games in London, the Stoke Mandeville Games was introduced. The event featured servicemen and women who were confined to wheelchairs, and they competed in archery. The event evolved into the Paralympic Games, which first took place in Italy in 1960 (via IPC). The first Paralympics featured 400 disabled athletes who hailed from 23 countries.

Over the years, the Paralympic Games committee has broadened the events they host. According to Encyclopedia, there are six disability groups: wheelchair, vision impairment, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, amputee, and others, which consists of disabled athletes who do not fit in the other five categories.

In the upcoming Paralympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo from August 24-September 5, there are already medal favorites for different events. Here are some of the standouts.

Ben Thompson

In 2010, Ben Thompson was in a horrific motorcycle accident that resulted in his paralysis from his chest all the way down to his toes. This left Thompson confined to a wheelchair. Doctors suggested he look for a hobby to keep his body, as well as his mind, flowing (via Boeing). It was then that Thompson picked up the sport of archery.

At first, learning archery in his condition was difficult. However, he soon realized that he didn't just want to do it as a hobby. Over the years, Thompson has competed in several events, earning medals along the way. In 2019, he won a gold medal in the world championships and was named the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee's Male Paralympian of the Year, as reported by USA Today. He is heading into the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, where he hopes to earn his first Paralympic medal in archery for the USA.

Natalia Partyka

The Paralympic Games in Tokyo won't be Natalia Partyka's first. The Polish table tennis star gained fame after competing in both the Olympics and Paralympics in 2008. Natalia was born without her right forearm, but that doesn't affect her playing by much. In fact, as Insider reports, her lack of a right hand only affects her serving in table tennis; she uses her right elbow to hold the ball instead and uses her left hand for the rest of the game.

Partyka considers herself in the same league as other players who have no disabilities. "I am playing the same lines as the others. I am doing the same exercises," she once said, per Scroll. In fact, she says she is "a bit bored" about having to answer questions about her disability all the time. Partyka has, so far, seven Paralympic medals under her name, and fans hope she adds more in the upcoming games.

Jessica Long

Jessica Long is one of the most popular names in swimming. Although born in Russia, Long grew up in the United States after she was adopted as a baby. She was born with fibular hemimelia and underwent more than two dozen surgeries to correct the deformed and missing bones on her legs, as reported by Inspire my Kids. However, her legs had to be amputated when she was only 18 months old.

Losing both her legs didn't stop Long from engaging in several sports as a child, using her prosthetic legs to help her. She eventually concentrated on swimming and won three gold medals at her debut in the Paralympic Games in 2004 — at only 12 years old, she was the youngest Paralympian medalist. The upcoming Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be Long's fifth time to participate in the Games, and so far, she has 23 Paralympic medals. With her positivity and exceptional swimming skills, she hopes to win more medals.

Lex Gillette

"There's no need for sight when you have vision." That is the mantra that Lex Gillette continues to live by as he heads into the Paralympic Games. Gillette completely lost sight in both his eyes when he was a young boy due to retina detachment, per Team USA. His mother encouraged him to join sports, even with his lack of sight, and it was then when he found his love for track and field. With the help of his teacher, Brian Whitmer, Gillette was able to work on his skills with the use of voice commands, per ABC 11.

Gillette has competed in four Paralympic Games, setting a U.S. record for long jump and winning a silver medal in his first Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, according to PBS. Gillette is also a motivational speaker who speaks to organizations, companies, and schools to share his story of success. Gillette is competing for Team U.S.A. and currently has five Paralympic medals to his name.

Daniel Dias

Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias already has 24 Paralympic medals, and he hopes to win more at the upcoming Paralympic Games, which will be his last. In a statement regarding his retirement, he said, "This is a decision I took some time ago, as I have been looking at new goals and objectives" (via Paralympic).

Dias was born without his right forearm and right lower limb, and his inspiration to swim was Clodoaldo Silva, a Brazilian Paralympic swimmer. Dias started swimming in 2004 and only two years later, Dias was already winning medals and breaking records left and right, as reported by Inside the Games. Dias says that he has already surpassed his expectations in regard to Para swimming, which is why he has decided to retire. Brazilians and Dias' fans are hoping that he goes out with a bang and takes home more Paralympic medals in Tokyo before his retirement.