25 American Athletes To Watch At The Paralympics

Bradley Snyder (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Last night the 2016 Paralympics kicked off with an opening ceremony that told us a lot about Brazil. But what about the athletes? We combed through their profiles and, as we did before the Olympics, plucked out the 25 American athletes who stand positioned to shine during the Games over the next two weeks. From adopted sisters to war vets, these are some of the Team USA athletes to watch.

1. Joe Berenyi, cycling

Berenyi, 47, is a Paralympic gold medalist in cycling and a repeat world champion. Back in 1994, Berenyi was injured in an accident at an ironworks facility in Illinois; he lost his arm and injured his knee. Since then, bearded Berenyi has dominated his sport and even been nominated for an ESPY award for best male athlete.

2. Heather Erickson, sitting volleyball

Erickson was born with a bone that prevented her leg from fully developing. No matter – Erickson has become a stand out in sitting volleyball, where she’s brought home Olympic silver and was part of the USA Team that won gold at the 2015 Parapan Games in Toronto.

3. Chuck Aoki, wheelchair rugby

Remember the movie Murderball about wheelchair rugby? 25-year-old Aoki does: it was watching that movie that convinced him to switch from wheelchair basketball to wheelchair rugby. Aoki, who was born in Minneapolis with a rare genetic condition that prevents him from feeling below the knees, already brought home a bronze medal at the Paralympics in London and he’ll be looking to standout in Rio.

4. Michelle Konkoly, swimming

One day while in her freshman year of college at Georgetown, Konkoly went to open her dorm room window and fell out, landing five stories below. She was paralyzed below the waist. Konkoly slowly regained some mobility and the ability to walk, and she put all her determination into her swimming career. She’s now got her eye son medical school, but first, a medal in Rio.

5. Jarryd Wallace, track and field

Wallace is a University of Georgia student, but more notably, an Olympic sprinter. Wallace began running as an able-bodied athlete, but lost his right leg after developing compartment syndrome, in which the pressure put on nerves during exercise deprives the muscles of oxygen. His relay team was disqualified on a technicality at the 2012 Paralympics in London, so look for him to dig deep to prove he’s worth the gold this time around.

6. Jamie Whitmore, cycling

Whitmore was already cycling professionally for 7 years when she learned she had a rare form of cancer and was left fighting for her life. Though she the nerve in her leg was damaged, she’s now cancer-free and looking to build on her 2012 Paralympic national title.

7. Brian Bell, wheelchair basketball

Bell lost his leg at the age of 10 in a train accident. Now years later, 6-foot Bell plays wheelchair basketball professionally in Italy and will be competing in his first Paralympics.

8. Melissa Stockwell, paratriathlon

Stockwell holds a record no one would ever want: she was the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War when she was hit by a roadside bomb while leading a convoy in Baghdad. She received a Purple Heart for her valor, and soon thereafter turned her attention to swimming. In fact, in the 2008 Paralympics she competed in the swimming events. Since then, she has turned to the paratriathlon.

9. Dartanyon Crockett, judo

Crockett is legally blind and was once homeless. Today, he is the reigning bronze medalist in Paralympic judo and aiming for gold in Rio.

10. Allison Jones, cycling

Born without a femur, Jones has since earned an engineering degree and on top of that, a gold medal in the winter Paralympics in slalom skiing. So what’s she doing in Rio? Jones has turned her attention to cycling. She won a silver medal in 2008 Paralympics and is back for more. She’s carrying Team USA’s flag at the opening ceremony.

11. Lex Gillette , track and field

Gillette already won the Paralympic medal in the long jump, but this summer he’s back for even more. Gillette, who is blind, has proven to be a dominant force on the US track and field team, medaling in long jump, triple jump, and sprints.

12. Jessica Long, swimming

Dominant doesn’t even capture what Long is. The Russian-born American swimmer already has won multiple gold medals over the course of three Paralympic appearances, and the swimmer, whose legs were amputated as a baby, is back to add to that collection.

13. Blake Haxton, rowing

Haxton has been busy this summer trying to balance finishing off law school finals with Paralympic trials. The 25-year-old double-amputee competes in the arms and shoulders singles sculls event and came in fourth in the World Championships in his first year of competition in 2014.

14. Tatyana McFadden, track and field

McFadden is only 27 but she has already won ten, yes, ten, Paralympic medals over the years. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment for someone who was once a paralyzed child in a Russian orphanage too poor to even provide her a wheelchair. Her adoptive mother was a commissioner of disabilities for the US Health Department and adopted McFadden. McFadden is now a mighty athlete and even competes on the University of Illinois Wheelchair Basketball team.

15. Hannah McFadden, track and field

Little sis Hannah, who was born in Albania, was also adopted by Deborah McFadden. And like her sister Tatyana, Hannah has become a major player in Paralympic track and field. Watch the sisters compete this summer in Rio.

16. Brad Snyder, swimming

32-year-old Snyder already brought home a couple gold medals in 2012 so expectations are pretty high for this Paralympian. But Snyder has a habit of exceeding expectations. The former captain of the Naval Academy’s swim team, Snyder lost his eyesight from an IED explosion while he was serving in Afghanistan. Now, he holds the world record among fully blind swimmers for the 100-freestyle.

17. Will Groulx, wheelchair rugby

Groulx may be 42, but he still plays hard. He served in the US Navy for many years before suffering a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident. In 2008, he was part of the US team that took hold the gold medal in the Paralympics. He’s back to repeat that performance.

18. Matt Stutzman, archery

Nicknamed the armless archer, Stutzman is the current world record holder for the longest accurate shot in archery – even among able-bodied archers – hitting a target 930 feet away in 2015. Using his feet and shoulders, Stutzman is now taking aim at gold.

19. Elizabeth Marks, swimming

US Army sergeant Marks joined the army at just 17 and was wounded in her hips while serving in Iraq at 19. She recovered only to be hit by yet another challenge in the form of a lung disease. Now she’s back and ready to take on her next challenge in the Paralympics.

20. Sam Grewe, track and field

Grewe has already overcome a rare form of bone cancer, but he lost his leg in the battle. Since then Grewe has proved himself an outstanding high jumper and a world champion in the event.

21. Allysa Seely, paratriathlon

Seely has been a triathlon athlete for a while, even before she discovered that a neurological problem would require her to lose part of her leg. She’ll be a newcomer to watch in the paratriathlon this year.

22. Seth McBride, wheelchair rugby

5 gold medals is quite the feat, but McBride’s done it in various world championships. The Alaskan was paralyzed in a skiing accident and has funneled all of his athletic prowess into wheelchair rugby. Watch him go for his first Olympic gold in Rio.

23. Jill Walsh, cycling

Walsh is a mind-boggling 53-year old athlete, and she’s still killing it. She won gold at the world championships last year. A retired state trooper, Walsh’s multiple sclerosis began to hamper her mobility. This will be her first Paralympic experience.

24. Steve Serio, wheelchair basketball

Serio made his Paralympic debut back in 2008, and he currently plays professionally in Germany. He uses a wheelchair ever since a spinal tumor was removed from him as an infant, and his ball handling skills are amazing.

25. David Blair, track and field

Blair holds the world record in discus and will be looking to bring home gold in the event. Born with a club foot in Utah, he spent 16 years away from the sport only to discover that he was Paralympic eligible in 2015.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/shannonsims/2016/09/08/25-american-athletes-...

September 9, 2016
Forbes by: Shannon Sims