U of I sends Paralympians to London

August 26, 2012 7:23:19 AM PDT
The 2012 Summer Paralympics Games start Wednesday in London. Athletes from all over with world will complete in 21 different sports classified by their disabilities.

The majority of Team USA's wheelchair racers are from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, home of the top wheelchair sport program in the nation.

Thirteen current, alumni and incoming Illini wheelchair racers qualified for Team USA's track events. To make things easier, the majority of them spend the summer training together on familiar tracks.

Daily training started at 8 a.m. with getting their racing chairs ready to roll over to the tracks. For an hour and half, they run through drills.

Adam Bleakney is both training coach and a member of Team USA.

"I'll do the 5,000 meters and the marathon," he said.

Even though the athletes are training together, most are not competing against each other in the Paralympics.

Susannah Scaroni, 21, is a first-time Paralympian. She will be competing in the marathon and is from the state of Washington.

"I came to Champaign to be on the wheelchair track and road racing team," she said.

Josh George is 28 years old and medalist from several Paralympics.

"I'll be running the 200, 400, 800, 1500 and the marathon," said George.

George graduated from University of Illinois in 2007. He is from northern Virginia.

"I was recruited to come out here to play wheelchair basketball, and I knew they had a good wheelchair racing program. So, that was a big reason why I came" he said.

Coach Adam also attended U of I.

"I was a student here from 1997 to 2002. I left for a couple of years and came back and took on the head coaching position in 2005," he said.

This will be his fourth trip to the Paralympics.

Coach Adam says China is favored to win the most medals.

"They won in Beijing, and they're favored to win the medial count again in London. So, we at the University of Illinois will do our best to get the US medal count up as high as we can," said the coach.

Fifteen wheelchair basketball players from U of I also qualified, but only five of them are on Team USA. The others are playing for their home countries.

For more information go to http://disability.illinois.edu/athletics and www.london2012.com/paralympics/.


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