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Paralympic Athletes Eager To Share Passion For Their Sports

Over 400 cyclists, swimmers, and track and field athletes are in Charlotte this weekend. They’re competing for spots on the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team.

At the track and field trials Thursday, athletes were eager to share their passion for competition and the achievement of their peers.

The starter calls the athletes to the line.

“On your mark," he yells, then the pistol sounds. 

Athletes speed around the track. Some are on foot, some on metal blades, some in wheelchairs.

Twenty-year-old Hannah McFadden is trying to make her second Paralympic team. She’s a racer on the wheelchair track team at the University of Illinois. She lost her left leg up to her hip due to a childhood bone deformity.

McFadden is a sprinter. She races in the 200 meters and the 100 meters as a T-54. This is a code for her disability and function level. It ensures she only races against people with similar disabilities. There are three classifications for female wheelchair racers. 

“The 54 means you have the highest functioning. So you have ab control, back control, all of the core muscles,” explains McFadden. 

As a 53, you don’t have as much muscle control and a 52 only has power in their shoulders, elbows, and wrists.

In track and field, there are also races for people with visual impairment, intellectual impairment, short stature, and a few other disabilities.

Some race outside their classification like sprinter Regas Woods. He’s a double above-the-knee amputee. He competes against below-the-knee amputees. He’s a national 200 meter champion in that classification. All of them are running on blades.

Woods says they can run nearly as fast as able-bodied Olympic hopefuls, but they face other financial challenges.

“It’s hard to get sponsorship with Paralympic sport, especially in the U.S.,” says Woods.

He says it’s hard to focus on his training without that sponsorship support. He hopes more athletes will speak out about the inequities between Paralympians and their able-bodied counterparts.

“Both can run nine seconds, but when you got a David Brown, blind athlete running in the tens, you got Regas Woods flying down the track or jumping 19 and 20 feet in the long jump, that’s an inspiration. The world needs to see that,” says Woods.

He’ll learn by Sunday if he makes his first Paralympic team. The Paralympics take place in Rio de Janeiro in September, two weeks after the Olympics.