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The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games kicked off on March 4, 2022, with a memorable opening ceremony at Beijing's National Stadium. The nine-day sporting event, which ends on March 13, 2022, features roughly 564 athletes competing in 78 medal events across six different sports — alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey, snowboarding, and wheelchair curling. Here are three American athletes hoping to make Paralympic history.
Rico Roman —Sled Hockey
Two-time sled hockey gold-medalist Rico Roman hopes to win his third consecutive gold in Beijing. The assistant captain, who plays center forward, has also been instrumental in helping Team USA garner two gold and three silver medals in the sport at the world championships.
Roman's path to competitive adaptive sports began in 2008. While serving on his third tour in Iraq, the veteran soldier was hit by an improvised explosive device. He suffered injuries to both legs, one of which had to be amputated. As part of his rehabilitation, Roman was introduced to sled hockey by Operation Comfort, a non-profit dedicated to helping wounded, injured, or ill military personnel.
"At first, I declined trying the sport," Roman says. "I was thinking, 'I've never played before, so why would I play after my injury?' Boy, was I wrong. I'm so glad I'm on the ice."
In 2011, Roman became one of the first war-wounded veterans named to the US National Sled Hockey Team, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Oksana Masters — Biathlon/Cross-Country Skiing
Many Paralympic athletes compete in different disciplines. However, Oksana Masters has the skills to compete in both the Winter and Summer Games! The 32-year-old entered the 2022 Games with ten medals spanning five sports — biathlon, cross-country skiing, rowing, and hand cycling. The amazing athlete has already added two medals more to her roster — a gold in the women's biathlon sitting sprint and a silver in women's cross-country skiing — at the Beijing Games.
Born with several physical defects caused by radiation exposure, Masters spent her early years in three different Ukrainian orphanages. Her life took a turn for the better when Gay Masters adopted her at seven and brought her to America. Due to her congenital disabilities, both her legs had to be amputated by the time she turned 14. The young girl also underwent multiple reconstructive surgeries on her hands.
After winning a bronze medal in rowing at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, Masters decided to try her hand at skiing. Within 14 months, she qualified for three Nordic cross-country skiing events and three biathlon events at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Masters returned with a silver and bronze medal!
In 2014, Masters took up hand cycling to relieve the back strain from competitive rowing and to improve her Nordic skiing. That same year, she garnered three bronze medals in the sport — two at the World Cup and one at the UCI Para-Cycling Worlds. After failing to medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Masters came back with a vengeance at the 2020 Tokyo Games. She took home the gold medal in both the hand cycling competitions.
Mike Schultz - Snowboarding
Mike Schultz's foray into adaptive sports began in 2008. The then able-bodied snocross racer suffered a devastating injury during a competition that resulted in the amputation of his left leg. Shortly after the accident, Schultz tried to race with a regular prosthetic but soon realized it was not meant for competitive, rigorous sport.
Instead of giving up, he set out to engineer a durable and versatile knee that would allow him to get back into action. It took Schultz three months to perfect the prosthetic and seven to win a silver medal at the Summer X Games adaptive supercross event.
The athlete has since won eight X Games gold medals and become a formidable name in motocross, snocross, and snowboarding. In 2018, the then 36-year-old added to his achievements by winning a gold and silver medal in snowboarding — a sport he took up after his accident — at the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
Even more impressive, Schultz's company, BioDapt Inc., which designs and manufactures high-performance lower limb prosthetic components, is helping other para-athletes pursue their dreams.
The entrepreneur says, "That's one of the most rewarding things that's happened with me becoming an amputee, is I started my company, BioDapt, in 2010, just a couple of years after I'd gotten injured. And then fast forward to the Paralympic Games in '18 and also coming up here in just over a month, I show up at the starting line, there's, like, 15 to 20 other athletes from around the world that are wearing equipment that I built in my shop."