As 11 Minnesotans prepared to attend the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, news reports indicated that the games faced major challenges, budget cuts and the unexpected closure of facilities. The International Paralympic Committee announced August 19 that the games would go ahead, but with changes. The Paralympics began September 7 and continue until September 18. Slower-than-expected ticket sales and a lack of sponsors have hurt the games.
“Never before in the 56 years of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this,” said Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Craven said the committee is doing all it can to address the potential problems, including seeking additional financing in Brazil. The Paralympics Games reign as the world’s top competition for athletes with disabilities. The cuts won’t change the number of events, but are expected to affect the number of workers available, how people get around and which sports venues are in use. The wheelchair fencing event was moved to the Barra Olympic Park. Deodora Park, where it was originally to be held, was to be dismantled. Some media centers were shut down.
What is concerning were that some travel grants, which were to be paid in July, are past due. Craven said August 18 that about several countries would struggle to pay for their athletes’ fares to Rio, even if the grants are paid. About 156 countries are expected to compete in the games. Another concern is lackluster ticket sales. As of mid-August only 12 percent of 2.5 million tickets
had been sold. Most tickets were only $3 each.
That’s in stark contrast to the 2012 games in London, which were the most successful ever. Events sold out, as 2.72 million tickets were sold. It was the third-largest sporting event ever in terms of ticket sales, behind the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. It was broadcast to more people in more countries than ever before.
Craven and other officials have remained positive. They contend that the games will be a positive force for social change in Brazil and the rest of Latin America, and will help change global attitudes toward people with disabilities.
Minnesota has 11 athletes that are part of Team USA. Two are swimmers. The rest are competing in nine other sports. They are:
Chuck Aoki, Minneapolis, wheelchair rugby. After 11 years playing wheelchair basketball, Aoki was inspired by the movie Murderball to give wheelchair rugby a try. He is a graduate of Southwest Minneapolis High School and Metropolitan State University. He is a member of the Minneapolis Wheelchair Rugby Club.
Aoki played on the U.S. rugby team that won bronze in London in 2012. He was also on the U.S. National Team in 2009. He’s won awards for his rugby play and will be blogging during the 2016 games.
Sean Boyle, Minneapolis, soccer. He is a member of the San Jose Spartans soccer team and attends San Jose State University. He hopes to complete college in 2018.
Boyle is a graduate of Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School in Faribault. These are his first Paralympics Games.
Ben Goodrich, St. Paul, judo. Goodrich is competing in his first Paralympics and has many regional, national and international judo crowns for visually impaired athletes to his credit. He also played on a beep ball team that made it to the Beep Baseball World Series.
Goodrich works for Merrill Corporation and is completing a degree in finance and accounting at the University of Minnesota.
Rose Hollerman, Elysian, wheelchair basketball. Hollerman is one of the women veterans of the Minnesota delegation, participating in the 2012 games in London. That team finished fourth. She’s been active in national and international competition for several years and has played on many championship teams.
As a prep athlete in Minnesota, Hollerman also excelled in track and field events.
Ian Lynch, Brooklyn Park, wheelchair basketball. Lynch has played in two Paralympics, taking home a bronze medal in 2012 and being part of a fourth-place team in 2008. He’s played on many prep and collegiate championship wheelchair basketball teams and is active in national and international competition. Lynch is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and has a degree in education.Aaron Pike, Park Rapids, track and field. Pike is a winter and summer competitor, and at age 40 is the oldest member of Minnesota’s delegation. His track and field career began during his college days at the University of Illinois-Champaign. He’s been a place winner in the Twin Cities, Boston and Los Angeles marathons, and was part of Team USA at the 2011 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships and the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Pike made the switch to winter sports after the London Games, and in his debut season, he earned three top-15 finishes in world cup competition.
Jon Rydberg, Woodbury, wheelchair tennis. The Pine City High School and University of Texas-Arlington graduate is now tennis coach at East Ridge High School in Woodbury. He’s competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 games, and has competed at the national and international level for many years. His resume includes several years on the U.S. World Cup team. Rydberg played wheelchair basketball and was part of a national championship team in Texas.
Lexi Shifflett, Waseca, sitting volleyball. 2016 is Shifflett’s first trip to the games, but she has played at the international level for the past few years. She won a Wilma Rudolph Award as part of the 2016 Minnesota National Women and Girls in Sports Day. Shifflett is a graduate of Winona High School, where she played softball
and volleyball all four years.
Natalie Sims, Edina, swimming. Sims is a 2016 graduate of Edina High School. She took up swimming at age 13 through the Minneapolis Otters YWCA team. She took to the sport and quickly began winning races. She soon found a spot on an emerging team.
In 2015 Sims won a bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the CanAm Para-Swimming Championships.
Shaun Tichenor, shooting. One of the four athletes on Team USA serving on active-duty in the United States Army, Staff Sergeant Tichenor was born in Brainerd. In 2011, he stepped on a pressure plate IED while serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan causing his heel bone to shatter. Tichenor’s injuries meant he would be unable to run again. In response, he made the decision to have his right leg amputated below the knee. Tichenor joined a Marksmanship Unit in order to continue his active duty service. This is his first Paralympic Games.
Mallory Weggemann, Eagan, swimming. The holder of 15 world records and 34 American records, Weggemann may be the most decorated of Minnesota athletes. In the 2012 games, she won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle and bronze as part of the 4×100 meter medley team. Weggemann also has medaled at many other competitions including the 2015 Parapan American Games, 2009 IPC Swimming World Championships, 2010 IPC Swimming World Championships and other championship meets.
She has been honored with many other awards, including the 2011 ESPN ESPY winner of Best Female Athlete with a Disability.