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Sun, Dec 21, 2014

Paralympic athletes are truly inspiring

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The most inspiring athletes in the world enjoyed their place in the spotlight this past week with the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, which ended today with the closing ceremony.

Approximately 700 athletes from 45 countries took part in the nine-day event, which was held at the same location as the 2014 Winter Olympics a couple of weeks ago. One athlete in these games represented the Volunteer State (Heath Calhoun), and a summer Paralympic legend lives here in Murfreesboro.

During the nine days of competition, medals were awarded in five different sports: Alpine Skiing, Sled Hockey, Wheelchair Curling, Cross-Country Skiing and the Biathlon. Another cool aspect of this event was these athletes, who had been through so much in their personal lives, got to compete at the same venues as the Winter Olympians.

This was the seventh Winter Games in a row in which the Olympics and the Paralympics were held at the same location. I bet it means a lot to these true stars of their respective sports by getting the chance to enjoy the same success as their counterparts.

Here in the United States, the Paralympics are finally getting the respect they deserve with the television coverage the NBC family of networks provided during this week.

The NBC and NBC Sports Network have combined for 52 hours, including live airings during the early morning hours, of coverage. Also, NBC will broadcast a review show on March 22 at 1 p.m. One of the USA athletes you saw in action lives in Clarksville, and he is the only athlete from Tennessee who took part in the these Winter Paralympics.

Calhoun competed in all of the Alpine Skiing events,  except for the Downhill in the sitting division. You see, Calhoun comes from a highly respected military family as his grandfather served in World War II, and his father served in Vietnam. He decided back in 1999 to follow in their footsteps and he joined the U.S. Army and became a squad leader for the 101st Airborne Division.

While fighting in Iraq in 2003, a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee and he had to get his legs amputated above the knees. However, he was honored with a Purple Heart for his service. Three years later, he began training with the USOC Paralympics Military Program.

Four years ago at the 2010 Paralympics Winter Games in Vancouver, Calhoun finished in the top 10 in two different alpine skiing events. Earlier this year at a World Cup event in Copper Mountain, Colo., he finished second in the slalom event. Stories like these are what sports are really about.

Speaking of the Paralympics, did you know one of the legends of the Summer Games lives here in town? Back in 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bart Dodson, who during his career, earned 20 (yes 20) medals during five consecutive Summer Games (1984-2000). He competed in the wheelchair track and field events after suffering a neck injury during his teenage years that put him in one. In 1992, he won an amazing eight gold medals during that event.

He is one of my favorite interviews I have done during my short career here at The Post. He is a true inspiration for everyone, and we are truly lucky he lives right here in Murfreesboro.

All of these past, present and future Paralympic athletes are one of the reasons we enjoy sports. I am so glad they are finally getting the respect they deserve for everything they have been through during their lifetime.

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athletes, david hunter, paralympics
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