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U.S. Paralympics Chief: Sport Comes Full Circle with Warrior Games, London Games in 2012

Wounded troops from all five military branches will compete in sports like swimming, cycling and sitting volleyball during the Third Annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs this week.

KUNC’s Grace Hood spoke with Charlie Huebner, Chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is sponsoring this week’s event.

HOOD: In 2012 Paralympic sports for the disabled will come full circle, according to Huebner. Two weeks after the Olympics wrap up in London the Paralympic Games will start. Huebner says the genesis for Paralympics and its roughly 20 sport categories today came from injured service members recovering from World War II.

HUEBNER: The really cool thing about the Warrior Games this year and the London Paralympic Games is that the movement was founded in London helping injured soldiers and members of our armed forces after WWII through sport to rehabilitate. [It’s] why the Paralympic movement exists.

HOOD: So give us a flavor of what this week will be like, what’s the goal of the Warrior Games?

HUEBNER: There’s a great need in this country for programming with physical disabilities and with 40,000 injured service members coming home to communities, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Paralympic Division, and our partner agencies want to ensure that the program is available. That’s the primary emphasis of the Warrior Games. It creates a lot of energy for the 5-6 days here at the Olympic Training Center. But most importantly it’s creating energy back at [military] installations and back in communities to sustain programs.

HOOD:  It sounds like there is something transformative that happens with athletics. What have you seen?

HUEBNER: When you become physically disabled, the individual and the people around the individual think about all the things you can’t do. In a lot of cases it’s something as simple as going skiing with your buddies again, or playing basketball with your son that allows people to transform both physically and mentally, and realize, ‘Hey, dad’s going to be ok.’ And sport heals. Research shows that getting people with physical disabilities involved in physical activity increases self esteem, reduces secondary medical conditions and stress, and creates higher achievement levels in education and employment.

HOOD: Your division of Paralympics oversees everything from wheelchair rugby to judo. Which sport has seen the most growth in recent years?

HUEBNER: A lot of our injured service members are involved in triathlon, and triathlon has been added to the Paralympics program in 2016. So that’s one sport that has seen tremendous growth. Not only in the Paralympic level but more importantly in the focus of Warrior Games is really the participation level. We want to get more kids and more young men and women that have served our country involved in daily physical activity.

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