Paralympic athletes return from Sochi, inspire others

Another round of Olympians are now on their way back from Sochi, but these athletes look a little different than those who competed the first time around.

The Paralympic Games just finished in Russia, and Team USA brought home 18 medals this time.

Tennessee native Heath Calhoun earned a silver in one ski event. The Army veteran lost both his legs while on duty in Iraq, and earned a Purple Heart for his service.

MORE: Meet Heath Calhoun

"You know it's just an amazing feat, these athletes go out there and only they are overcoming physical obstacles but they have to train as hard as regular Olympian," said Carly Pearson.

Pearson, a former wildlands firefighter, broke her back while working a blaze in 2002 and the injury left her legs paralyzed. After rehabilitation, she entered the world of competitive adaptive sports.

In 2010, Pearson earned a spot on the US National Handcycling team but missed a chance to compete in the Paralympics because it was an off-year. She traveled extensively before slowing down to have a baby in 2012.

"And here I am back just trying to get into shape!" she said. Pearson is now training on the rock climbing walls, hoping to compete in the sport, too.

As she works toward her goals, she's delighted national media is starting to recognize the achievements of her fellow athletes with disabilities. NBC and NBC Sports aired several hours of Paralympic Programming for the first time this year.

"Hopefully one day there will be just as much coverage on the Paralympics, because I feel like these athletes do deserve the time," Pearson said. "I feel people should see what kind of world this is out there. Everyone -- they [have walls] to climb over, and this inspires people to go further and do more and to be out there and to push yourself everyday to be the best you can be because we are not promised tomorrow."

Joshua Pate brought another Tennessee connection to Sochi. The University of Tennessee alum traveled to Russia to be a Paralympic New Service volunteer.

Pate, who earned a degree in Sports Management and Journalism from UT, was born with cerebral palsy. Long interested in adaptive sports, Pate was chosen to work in a media relations role covering the sport of curling during the Paralympics.


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