257 athletes will be representing the United States at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. The games, which take place every four years, will provide an opportunity for many athletes and teams to qualify for the upcoming 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
The Peruvian capital city will host the Parapan American Games from August 23 to September 1st. In total, the event will feature a record 1,850 athletes competing in 17 sports, two more than Toronto 2015, making it the biggest Parapan American Games to date.
Of the 257 athletes representing Team USA, 114 Paralympians, including 36 Paralympic champions, will make up the roster. In addition, 17 of the athletes have been a part of Disabled Sports USA’s Elite Team (E-Team), which is designed to support and empower emerging youth athletes (ages 13-24) with disabilities who are training competitively in sports that are featured in the summer and winter Paralympic Games. Those 17 athletes include:
- Miles Krajewski, Badminton
- Josh Welborn, Goalball
- Stetson Bardfield, Shooting
- Taylor Farmer, Shooting
- Abby Gase, Swimming
- Garner Moss, Swimming
- Casey Ratzlaff, Tennis
- Jackson Atwood, Track & Field
- Mikayla Chandler, Track & Field
- Phillip Croft, Track & Field
- Hannah Dederick, Track & Field
- Jenna Fesemyer, Track & Field
- Elizabeth Floch, Track & Field
- Casey Followay, Track & Field
- Ezra Frech, Track & Field
- Joel Gomez, Track & Field
- Justin Phongsavanh, Track & Field
Here are a few of their stories.
In 2005, Casey Followay attended an Adaptive Sports Day organized by the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, a moment that forever changed his life. “I grew up being around able-bodied people, so I didn’t know anything like that existed,” he said. “From that day forward, it changed my outlook on life. I had better self-esteem and then knew that I could accomplish anything.” Followay, who has spina bifida, a congenital spine defect that left his legs paralyzed, was introduced to various sports there, but immediately latched onto wheelchair racing.
One year later, he found himself setting a national record in the 60 meter dash at the National Junior Disability Championships, which was only his third track meet. He still hold that record today. At the secondary school level, Followay continues to hold the Division I state record in Ohio and the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium record in both the 100m and 800m. But he has much higher goals, including Tokyo 2020. “I want to be one of the fastest in the world,” he said. “I’d like to be a world record holder in my classification.”
The 22 year-old was named to Disabled Sports USA’s (DSUSA) Elite Team back in 2016, but earlier this year received an #AbilityEquipped grant to purchase adaptive sports equipment, namely a new racing chair. “This type of equipment is expensive. I am very honored to be involved with DSUSA and grateful for the generosity. This will help me achieve the goals I set when I was young.”
During her freshman year in high school, Mikayla Chandler was approached to join the indoor track team. Although she had played sports since the age of five, she was originally reluctant. “I ended up really loving it.” For Chandler, it was easier than the team sports she had participating in. Chandler has dwarfism, which is pretty uncommon. “Only about one in 30,000 have it,” she said. “Running up and down the field was a struggle for me, due to my short legs. I also get to compete at my own pace.”
Throughout her athletic pursuits, Chandler points out that Adaptive Sports New England, a new chapter of Disabled Sports USA based in the Boston area, has been very supportive of her. “Joe (Walsh, president of the organization) has been instrumental in pointing me in the right direction, helping me find competitions, and providing training advice.”
As a track and field athlete, Chandler focuses on two events, discus and shotput. “I’m a thrower,” she said. She was named a member of Disabled Sports USA’s Elite Team in 2017 and continues to advance and progress in her sport. The 18 year-old would love to medal, but mainly wants to improve on her personal bests. Ultimately, Chandler’s goal is to represent Team USA at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo as well. In addition, she plans to attend San Diego State this fall, where she will be part of a new adaptive track team. “There are only three athletes right now, but it’s a start…. I have always wanted to be on a collegiate team.”
Taylor Farmer has emerged as a promising athlete and really helped increase the depth for Team USA in Rifle. The 21 year old athlete from Castalia Ohio was born with cerebral palsy and had never fired a gun until she joined her father at a range in 2012. A couple years later, she found herself participating in her local 4-H shooting program and competing in air rifle.
In 2017, Farmer was named to Disabled Sports USA’s Elite Team and would move to Colorado Springs so she could train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Last fall, she won her first two world cup medals at the World Shooting Para Sport event in Chateauroux, France, wining bronze in both the 10-meter air rifle standing and the 50-meter three-position rifle. Farmer would also earn Paralympic Athlete of the Year honors in 2018 for USA Shooting.
Casey Ratzlaff had never been in a wheelchair prior to attending a clinic where he first tried wheelchair tennis. Born with spina bifida, a condition that affects his lower limbs, he was using crutches to assist his walking. That clinic was being ran by pro Nick Taylor, who has won more than 300 matches in his career, including nine grand slam quad doubles victories and three Paralympic gold medals, who saw potential in Ratzlaff.
“That helped me, because he wanted to push me to play as much as I wanted to play,” Ratzlaff said. “That really worked with my drive.” A little more than a year later Casey was named to the U.S. World Cup Team. Of course, he too has set his sights set on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Ratzlaff, who was named to the DSUSA Elite Team in 2016, has advice for other aspiring athletes. “Don’t make your disability an excuse to not go out and try things. If you want to explore, go explore. I did it, and I think it’s worked out for me so far. Just be yourself and work hard at the things you love and you’ll go places in life.”
Best of luck to these 17 Elite Team athletes and to Team USA at the 2019 Parapan American Games!