Unrecognized heroes

Now that the Sochi 2014 Olympics have ended, there is no longer the constant stream of medal counts, highlighted performances and heartwarming stories that had become a part of our everyday awareness. The Olympics dominated television viewing during the two weeks of international sports competition and cost NBC $775 million for the rights to televise alone. Pictures of Olympians were plastered across papers, websites and social media for those two weeks and quickly sank back into the woodwork awaiting their return to stardom in four years’ time. We believe the Olympics are over for now and await their grandiose return to thrill us with athletic feats and acts of near heroism.

But what if I said the Olympics were not over? Would you know Great Britain won its first gold medal in super-G? Would you know the United States won a silver in nordic skiing and two gold medals in alpine? Would you know the names of any of these athletes? The Olympics did not end on February 23rd; they are still taking place today. The 2014 Sochi Paralympics began last Friday, and its athletes are equally as impressive as those who competed on the same snow and ice just a few weeks earlier. Where the Canadian women’s hockey team defeated the U.S. team for the gold medal, the men’s U.S. paralympic sled hockey team just beat Italy 5-0 and is currently undefeated in preliminary play.

The problem is we simply do not know about these events, and perhaps we do not care. I know I only stumbled across an article by chance while browsing the news the other night. If not for that, I would have gone the full duration of the Paralympics without realizing competitions were continuing in Sochi. Even with consciousness of the Paralympics, news sources are barely covering the events. There is an occasional “feel-good” story that pops up here and there, but many of them fail to highlight the extremely talented athletes who compete at the Paralympics.

If a question were raised regarding the difficulty of the events, consider Tatyana McFadden. Born with spinal bifida, which paralyzed her from the waist down, McFadden made her debut in the Paralympic nordic ski world, placing fifth in her first Olympic race. She had previously competed in the Summer Paralympics where she has won 10 medals for track and field events. She has also won the Chicago, Boston, New York and London Marathons in the women’s wheelchair division. McFadden is an impressive athlete regardless of whether her legs are functional or not. The muscles in her arms bulge from years of training, and her determination is indescribable. For the first six years of her life she walked on her hands because the Russian orphanage she lived in could not afford a wheelchair for her. She is one of the few athletes on the American team to receive attention, but it is more for the story of her upbringing, Russian-born and adopted by Americans, than it is about her sheer, incomparable athleticism.

To ski, McFadden and her competitors use a sit ski and propel themselves up and down hills, around tight corners and through varying snow conditions, only with their arms. As a nordic skier, I can attest to the extreme difficulty of relying solely upon arm and abdominal strength to propel oneself through snow. If they fall navigating a turn or going down a hill, they must push themselves back up even when strapped into a sled. The Paralympic skiers must have a level of fitness and strength roughly equivalent to their standing fully able-bodied counterparts.

I can think of few athletic feats more difficult and impressive than those currently transpiring in Sochi. It is troubling that the world takes the time to stop and watch the Olympics for two weeks, yet there is nearly non-existent coverage of an equally impressive showing of athletic accomplishment. We so often paint Olympians as heroes for performing at a level higher than many of us are capable of imagining, but I believe we are overlooking some of the greatest heroes the Olympics have to offer. Take out the hype of advertisement, sponsorship, money and worldwide fame, and you are left with glory, determination, competition, solidarity and purity of sport. Those are the qualities I want televised at the Olympics. I only wish more people had the chance to see them.

Alyssa Amos ’15 is an art studio and English double major from Bennington, Vt. She lives in Mills-Dennett. 

  • Maura Murrihy

    I am sending this to Tatyana and family in Sochi right now. A beautifully written article and fitting tribute.

    • suzk75fg82

      Yeah right

  • suzk75fg82

    Not exactly what I was looking for

  • lily

    IDK