This week the London Olympics will draw to a close. But that's not truly the end of the thrills, achievements and inspirational stories until the next Games. Because two weeks after the close of the Summer Games, from August 29th to September 9th at the same London venues, comes the International Paralympic Games.
Founded in 2001, US Paralympics, a division of the US Olympic Committee (you can visit them at www.teamusa.org), is a leader in the Paralympic sports movement. They employ sports programs, education and terrific work with community organizations, medical facilities and a number of government agencies and they are Making a Difference for people with physical, mental and visual disabilities.
You might be surprised to learn - I was - that what we now know as the Paralympic movement can trace its roots back to 1888, when there were sports clubs for the deaf in Berlin. World War II, with so many people returning from war with injuries and in need of assistance, brought this movement to the forefront of everyone's attention and it grew quickly.
The Stoke Mandeville Games for wheelchair athletes commenced on the same day as the opening of the 1948 Olympic Games. In 1960 these became the Paralympic Games (the Greek word "para" means beside or alongside so the Paralympics are meant to be "alongside" the Olympic games), and today that is exactly what they are. A winter version was added in 1976 and since 1988 (summer games) and 1992 (winter games) the Paralympics have been in the same cities and venues as the Olympics themselves.
Today there are 25 sports (covering both summer and winter events) with competitors that include people who are amputees, blind or visually impaired, paralyzed or in a wheelchair, dealing with traumatic brain injuries or are mentally impaired.
Many communities around the country have Paralympic programs to make them available for more Americans with disabilities, especially young people and veterans. In fact, the US Olympic Committee has a program that provides support and mentoring to injured men and women veterans through adaptive sport techniques, clinics and camps while they build programs in their local communities.
In honor of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes, you might want to consider supporting one of these organizations so that you can be Making A Difference for these athletes, their families and our country as a whole:
Find a local club in your community that runs Paralympic programs at www.findaclub.usparalympics.org
The International Paralympic Committee has information about sports, athletes, partnerships and programs all around the world
State Paralympic programs range from Sportability of Iowa, which is dedicated to helping children and adults with physical disabilities and visual impairments participate in sport and recreation to Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports which helps increase self-confidence and independence through adaptive sports programs and activities
Paralyzed Veterans of America works for health care and benefits for veterans and also "provides the path to adventure through adaptive sports"
Disabled Sports USA helps people with disabilities through
participation in community sports, recreation and educational programs"
And there are, as always, many many more, some of them in your town or your state, ready to help and looking for your participation.
Here are five (5) tips and ideas of ways you can support the Paralympic Games and other organizations who use sport for Making A Difference for those who live with disabilities:
1) Don't just cheer for our Olympians; go online and follow and cheer and Facebook and Tweet for our Paralympians!
2) Research via the internet for your local or state organization that supports the disabled and make a donation; everyone can make a difference
3) Volunteer at a local clinic or veterans center that runs sports and activity programs for those who are disabled
4) Donate sports equipment to your local Paralympics programs
5) Recognize that Paralympians have often overcome even greater challenges than their Olympic counterparts to reach their goals ... and follow their lead by getting moving and being as fit as you can
BONUS TIP: Be a leader by putting together a "sports potluck" where sporting equipment is the main attraction and pledge to give everything you collect to your local Paralympics organization. You can spread the word in your community - and you might even consider enlisting a local sporting goods store to make a big donation. The equipment you'll collect, and awareness you'll create, will be Making A Difference® (M.A.D.) for dozens of people in your community who need, love and count on these programs.
The Paralympic Games show what's possible when you're committed to excellence in the face of tremendous obstacles. And, as with all Olympic sports, those who win the medals are only the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of people who are achieving their life goals through participating in sports - in our country, in your state, and in your community. There are no greater examples of the difference that a deep commitment can make than our Paralympians. Join with them and you, too, can be M.A.D.