Durbin Honors Paralympic Athletes from Illinois
Welcomes Paralympians, Olympians, and members of U.S. Olympic Committee to his Washington, DC office
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today submitted a statement for the record in the U.S. Senate honoring the individual accomplishments of the disabled athletes from Illinois who represented the United States at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games. With many members of Team USA visiting Washington, DC this week, today Durbin welcomed Paralympians and Olympians from across the country to his office to discuss their success at London Games. Photos of that meeting are available here. Durbin will also be attending tomorrow’s ceremony at the White House honoring the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams.
“Among those representing Team USA in the London Paralympic Games were many athletes from Illinois, including a number of students and alumni of the University of Illinois’ acclaimed Adapted Varsity Athletics Program. Just as their non-disabled counterparts, the athletic ability and tenacious commitment of each and every one of these athletes serves as an inspiration to their friends, their families, and to Americans across the country. Although each faces some form of physical limitation, these athletes accept no limits on what they can achieve.”
“I congratulate all of Team USA’s athletes on their success at this year’s Paralympic Games, and especially those from Illinois. It is an honor to represent them.”
Full text of Durbin’s statement is below:
Senator Richard J. Durbin
Statement for the Congressional Record
Honoring Illinois Athletes Competing at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games
Mr. DURBIN: Mr. President, this past Sunday, the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games were held in London. More than 4,200 athletes seated in the arena were joined by 80,000 cheering spectators to celebrate the culmination of 11 days of athletic achievement with parades, fireworks, and music.
Of the 227 American athletes competing in this year’s London Games, twenty are members or veterans of the United States Armed Forces, including three active duty service members. This is especially noteworthy given that it was disabled British World War II veterans using sports as rehabilitation who founded what has become today’s modern Paralympic Games.
Among those representing Team USA in the London Paralympic Games were many athletes from Illinois, including a number of students and alumni of the University of Illinois’ acclaimed Adapted Varsity Athletics Program.
Evanston native Greta Neimanas arrived at her second Paralympic Games as a seven-time national champion, 13-time world championship medalist and ParaPan Am Games gold medalist. A longtime patient of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) and an inspiration to many of RIC’s younger patients, she competed in both track and road cycling events in London.
Joe Berenyi left London with three Paralympic medals: a gold, a silver, and a bronze. The cyclist, who was born in Aurora, IL, also set a world record on his way to becoming the Paralympic champion in the men’s individual C3 Pursuit. A father of three, Joe returned to Oswego this week where he was surprised by a parade of family and friends in his honor.
Centennial High School graduate Nichole Millage of Champaign won her second silver medal in sitting volleyball as a member of the women’s team. Even before winning silver in Beijing, Nichole saw the amputation of her left leg as an opportunity, not a disability.
Born in Chicago, Justin Zook is a three-time Paralympic gold medalist and world-record-holder. Justin’s victory in the 100-meter backstroke in London was all the more impressive given his disability reclassification on the eve of the Games, placing him alongside athletes with a lower level of physical disability than he had competed against previously.
University of Illinois junior Tatyana McFadden, who goes by the nickname “Lady Velocity,” won four medals in London: three gold and one bronze. She competed in the 100, 400, 800, and 1,500 meters and the marathon and was only prevented from medaling in all five by a punctured tire during the marathon. She still came in ninth. As a leading voice advocating for disability rights, her motto is “Sports is my passion, paving access for others is my purpose.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Eric Barber has been playing wheelchair basketball for 20 years. He captured his second Paralympic medal this year in London as a member of the bronze-winning US men’s wheelchair basketball team. Eric was also a member of the wheelchair basketball team that won bronze in Sydney in 2000.
Joining him on the men’s wheelchair basketball team was former University of Illinois point guard Steve Serio, who led the US team with 20 points and recorded four rebounds and eight assists during the team’s bronze-medal game against host Great Britain.
Team captain Will Waller was the third Illini on the men’s wheelchair basketball team at his fourth Paralympic Games.
Jennifer Chew represented the University of Illinois on the women’s wheelchair basketball team. When not training herself, she manages the Denver Lady Nuggets basketball team and assistant coaches the Junior Rolling Nuggets basketball team.
Teammate and fellow Illini Sarah Castle was in London at her fourth Paralympic Games, but only her second as a basketball player. Sarah competed at the 2000 and 2004 Paralympic Games as a swimmer – winning silver in Sydney – before a shoulder injury prompted her to pursue wheelchair basketball instead.
Paralympian Adam Bleakney has competed in wheelchair racing events ranging from 100-meters to the marathon in the 2000, 2004, 2008, and now 2012 Summer Games. Adam completed both his undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Illinois in Champaign, where he now serves as head coach of the wheelchair track team.
Three-time Chicago Marathon winner Josh George claimed bronze in London in the men’s 800 meters. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois, Josh continued to participate in the school’s program as a volunteer assistant coach. When not racing, he works at Intelliwheels, a startup that develops innovative wheelchair technologies at the University of Illinois’ EnterpriseWorks.
Anjali Forber-Pratt began wheelchair racing when she was just nine-years-old. She went on to win a total of four gold, six silver, and two bronze medals at the Junior National Wheelchair Games before claiming two bronze medals at the Paralympic Games in Beijing and competing in the 100, 200, and 400 meters in London. Anjali embodies her personal motto, “Dream, Drive, Do” not only as athlete but also as a student—she holds three degrees from the University of Illinois, including her doctorate.
Illinois freshman Ray Martin dominated the track, sweeping the men’s 100, 200, 400, 800 meters. His impressive four gold medals placed him that the top of the medal count for Illini athletes.
Since competing in his first marathon in 2007, Aaron Pike has become one of the top wheelchair racers in America in the event. At the University of Illinois, he led the Illini to four straight finals of the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, and two titles.
Jessica Galli of Savoy has competed in four Paralympic Games, where she has won one gold, one bronze, and four silver medals. She holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois, where she also competed on the wheelchair track team. She serves as an advocate for disabled athletes through her work on the United States Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Advisory Council, Wheelchair and Ambulatory Sports USA, and USA Wheelchair Track and Field.
In a momentous year for Brian Siemann, he not only competed in his first Paralympic Games, but he will also graduate from the University of Illinois, where he is currently a senior. The 2012 US Paralympic National Champion in the 100 and 200-meters, Brian lives his favorite quote: “don’t stop believing.”
Recent University of Illinois graduate Ryan Chalmers competed as a collegiate athlete in both basketball and track, where his multisport talent earned him an athletic scholarship. Ryan chose track over basketball before being selected as a member of Team USA for the 2012 Paralympics.
After an intense summer training in Champaign, Amanda McGrory competed in London in five events, including the 800, 1,500, 5,000 and the marathon. The University of Illinois graduate began as a sprinter but changed her mind after her first marathon, one of the sport’s most grueling events.
Although she hadn’t ever competed in a marathon until moving to Champaign to attend the University of Illinois just a few years ago, Susannah Scaroni represented the United States in the distance event in London. A member of the Illini track and road racing team, this was her first Paralympics.
It is no coincidence that so many of Illinois’ Paralypians are current students or alumni of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since becoming the first in the nation to open its doors to those with disabilities in 1949, our state’s flagship university has become a world leader in disability sports. The University of Illinois’ adaptive sports program draws athletes from across the globe, and has sent students, alumni, or coaches to every Paralympics since 1960.
Just as their non-disabled counterparts, the athletic ability and tenacious commitment of each and every one of these athletes serves as an inspiration to their friends, their families, and to Americans across the country. Although each faces some form of physical limitation, these athletes accept no limits on what they can achieve.
I congratulate all of Team USA’s athletes on their success at this year’s Paralympic Games, and especially those from Illinois. It is an honor to represent them.
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