Minnesotans win seven medals at the 2012 Paralympics

Minnesotans brought home medals and memories from the 2102 Paralympics in London. The games ended Sept. 9. More than 4,200 athletes from 166 countries competed.

Eagan resident Mallory Weggemann won her first Paralympics women’s swimming gold medal, setting a meet and American record in the 50-meter freestyle. Weggemann, 22, won the S8 event in 31.13 seconds. (S8 refers to the ability classification level of the athlete. Athletes compete against athletes of similar abilities. To learn about the classifications, go to www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports/ )

“I’ve been dreaming of being on that podium and hearing the anthem for 4½ years,” she said. “I didn’t expect it but I wanted it.”

Weggemann was paralyzed from the waist down four years ago, after a routine surgical procedure went awry. She is a University of Minnesota student and motivational speaker. Weggemann won an ESPY last year for best female athlete with a disability and holds many world and American records.

Weggemann was reclassified just before the game and lost an appeal when she was moved from one classification to another. But not only did she win gold, Weggemann also won the bronze as a member of the 4 X 100 medley relay. She swam in one relay and five individual events total.

Anna Eames, another first-time Paralympics swimmer, won a silver medal as part of the S10 women’s 4X 100 medley relay. Eames, 22, of Golden Valley, swam in individual, freestyle and butterfly events but didn’t medal. She is a student at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Returning swimmer Justin Zook of Plymouth also won gold in the S10 100 m backstroke. He competed in freestyle and relay events but finished out of the running for medals. Zook, 26, won his first Paralympics gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke in Athens eight years ago and defended his S10 title in Beijing in 2008. He holds a degree in sports management from Springfield, MA College.

Another Team USA member with Minnesota ties was back for his fifth Paralympics. Paul Nitz, formerly of Edina and now of Connecticut, won bronze in the men’s T52 100-meter dash. The three-time Paralympics Games gold medalist made the finals in both the T52 men’s 200 and 400 meters but didn’t place in the top three.

Nitz is considered one of Team USA’s all-time great runners. He won gold in the 100 meters in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. He competed in Athens and but not in Beijing in 2008 due to illness.

Minnesotans also won medals in team sports. Brooklyn Park’s Ian Lynch scored two points as the American men’s wheelchair basketball team beat host Great Britain 61-46 for the bronze medal. Lynch, 28, also was on the U.S. team four years ago in Beijing.

This was his first Paralympics medal. Lynch played on the bronze medal team in the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation Gold Cup in Birmingham, England, two years ago, and won a gold medal in the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara in 2011.

Another Minnesotan who brought home a bronze medal in team competition is Minneapolis’ Chuck Aoki. He was part of the bronze medal-winning wheelchair rugby team, which defeated Japan by a 53-43 score. He played strong throughout the games, including 12 goals in the bronze medal game.

He began participating in Courage Center sports camps as a child and plays wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball for the University of Arizona. Aoki was named the 2011 U.S. Quad Rugby Association’s Athlete of the Year. This was his first Paralympics.

Two Minnesotans, Rose Hollermann and Sarah Binsfield, were on the women’s wheelchair basketball team. The women, who had won the gold four years ago, lost the bronze medal match to the Netherlands.

Binsfield, 24, is a Vadnais Heights residents and a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater senior. She has two gold medals from the U25 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships and the Parapan American Games.

Hollermann, 16, is from Elysian and is a junior at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School. She is a state title-winning athlete in track and field, and is the youngest person to be selected for the U.S. national wheelchair basketball team.

Other Minnesotans competed but didn’t win medals. Jon Rydberg, 34, of Oakdale played in both singles and doubles’ men’s wheelchair tennis competition. He is a high school tennis coach and participated in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics Games. Park Rapids’ Aaron Pike, a University of Illinois student, competed in four individual and relay wheelchair track events.