Local athletes put on a dominant display at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer. These remarkable athletes have displayed courage throughout their lives. One even showed remarkable strength despite not competing. Here’s a look back at some of the stars who left their mark.
Former Loyola swimmer McKenzie Coan now sits at four career Paralympic medals and four golds after winning gold in the 400 meter freestyle (S7) and silver in the 100 meter freestyle (S7) in Tokyo. In August, she released a book called “Breaking Free,” detailing her path from being born with osteogenesis imperfecta (“brittle bone disease”) to becoming one of the most elite athletes on the planet.
Coan has broken more than 100 bones in her life. But she has broken even more barriers. She intends to start law school at Rutgers in 2022 with her sights still set on the 2024 Games.
With the American men’s wheelchair basketball team trailing Japan, 56-51, late in the gold medal game, Team USA needed a spark. And Calvert County native Trevon Jenifer was the one to provide it. He scored the basket that started an 8-0 American run, leading to a second consecutive gold medal for the U.S. The Huntingtown native now has three career medals after winning gold in 2016 and bronze in 2012. He was born with congenital amputation but was a star wrestler in high school (Huntingtown) while competing against non-disabled athletes.
More of the country became aware of Jessica Long’s story after she was featured in a Toyota Super Bowl commercial in February. The Russian-born swimmer (who came to Baltimore via adoption just after turning 1) had her legs amputated below her knees at a young age because of a condition known as fibular hemimelia. It hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the greatest athletes of a generation.
Long added three golds, two silvers and a bronze in the pool in Tokyo, bringing her career totals to 16 gold medals and 29 medals overall. She is the second most decorated American athlete in Paralympics history and one of the greatest inspirations in the history of Baltimore sports.
Much like Long, Tatyana McFadden was born in Russia and came to Maryland at a young age via adoption. The Atholton alum is now a 20-time Paralympic medalist (with eight career golds) after winning wheelchair racing gold, silver and bronze medals in Tokyo.
And somehow that’s not even the most impressive thing McFadden accomplished in 2021. In October, McFadden won the Chicago Marathon and finished second in the Boston Marathon. You think that’s impressive, right? Wait until you find out that the two marathons were … on CONSECUTIVE DAYS.
Sadly, Timonium native and six-time Paralympic medalist Becca Meyers did not win a single medal at the Tokyo Games. But her impact may have been even more significant than what she could have done in Toyko.
Meyers was born with Usher syndrome and is legally deaf and blind. She succeeded at the Rio Games in 2016 but struggled with simple tasks due to physical limitations. Because of that, she started traveling with her mother as a personal care assistant. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was told she could not bring her mother with her to Japan. In response, Meyers withdrew from the games altogether.
Yet her willingness to speak about her challenges gave international attention to the plight of even the most remarkable Americans with disabilities. In July, she received a citation from Gov. Larry Hogan, who signed an executive order designating the month as “Disability and Cultural Achievements Month.”
Mt. Airy native Daniel Romanchuk made his second career Paralympic team and took home his first career wheelchair racing medals in Tokyo. He won gold in the 400 meters (T54) and bronze in the marathon (T54). He might have accomplished even more but later admitted to dealing with a pressure injury to his hip in Tokyo.
Born with spina bifida, he was active in sports through Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute. And much like Tatyana McFadden, he had a very active marathon season in the fall, including winning the Chicago Marathon and finishing second in the Boston Marathon on back-to-back days. Even more remarkably, he is still only 23 years old.
Naval Academy alum Brad Snyder was serving as a lieutenant in Afghanistan in 2011 when he lost both eyes and suffered other significant injuries after stepping on an IED.
Less than a year later, he moved to Baltimore to train with Loyola swimming and diving coach Brian Loeffler and has stayed here throughout his dominant swimming career. During his first two Paralympics, he claimed an impressive five gold and two silver medals.
But three years ago, he decided to take on a new challenge. And in Tokyo, he claimed gold in the Paratriathlon (PTVI). Remarkably, he had never finished better than third in a triathlon competition leading up to the games.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
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