Who to watch on team USA Paralympics? David Brown, Anastasia Pagonis, Hunter Woodhall...
Team USA is sending a 240-strong contingent to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, with the delegation already holding a collective 233 medals from 51 Paralympic champions.
The team is one member less after swimmer Becca Meyers, one of its most decorated athletes, withdrew from the games after her request to bring a personal care assistant was denied.
Despite Meyers’ absence, the swimming roster remains a force to be reckoned with.
Team USA Paralympic swimmers
Jessica Long is a four-time Paralympic swimmer with 23 medals to her name, 13 of them gold. This makes her the second-most decorated Paralympian in US history. She was born without fibulas, ankles, heels, and most bones in her feet. At 18 months, her legs were amputated below the knee so she could walk on prosthetic legs. She began swimming competitively at 10 and at 12, she made the Paralympic team as its youngest member.
McKenzie Coan, a two-time Paralympian who debuted at the London Games, has won three golds and one silver medal. She was diagnosed with brittle bone disease as a baby, and has broken nearly 100 bones. She discovered swimming after her brothers did, and joined the team at her local pool as a child.
Anastasia Pagonis had full eyesight until she was nine, when she started having changes in vision. At 14 she was left with only light visual perception due to Stargardt disease and autoimmune retinopathy. Originally a soccer player, she moved to swimming after her doctor encouraged her to try a sport with less contact. She makes her Paralympic debut in Tokyo.
Paralympic track and field stars
The track and field athletes are also a must-watch, starting with David Brown, known as the “fastest blind man in the world”. He broke the men’s 100m world record for athletes who are completely blind. He won gold in this event at the Rio Paralympics with his guide Jerome Avery. The two refer to themselves as “Team BrAvery”.
Hunter Woodhall was born with a condition that stops lower limb development, and was amputated below the knee at 11 months. He won two Paralympic medals in Rio, and is also a four-time World Championship medalist.
Tatyana McFadden will be joining her sixth Paralympics, with 17 medals under her belt. She was born with a birth defect in which the spinal column fails to close, paralyzing her from the waist down. She has lobbied for equal pay between Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Paralympic team sports veterans
In team sports, there’s Nicky Nieves for Sitting Volleyball, where she won a gold medal in the 2016 Games in Rio. She has been missing her left hand since birth.
Wheelchair rugby player Chuck Aoki is gunning for the gold that his team failed to clinch in 2012, when they won the bronze, and 2016, when they won the silver. Aoki was born with a rare genetic disorder that leaves him with no feeling in his hands and feet.
In wheelchair basketball, three-time Paralympian Steve Serio is the man to watch. He won bronze at the 2012 London Games, and then the gold in Rio in 2016. He had a spinal tumor as a baby, and became partially paralyzed after having surgery to remove it.
These are but some of the inspiring athletes who will give their all to try and improve on Team USA’s 2016 fourth-place finish in the overall medals table.