Advocate wins Pathfinder award
A New Ulm area advocate for people with disabilities is one of the 2012 Pathfinder Award winners. The awards were given on January 16 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Wilbur Neuschwander-Frink received the Pathfinder Award, given annually to people who embody the spirit and work of Dr. King. Neuschwander-Frink has been an advocate for people with disabilities for 17 years. She sees parallels between the work of King and the advocacy she does for people with disabilities.
“Getting a Martin Luther King Jr. award is, for me, the pinnacle,” Neuschwander-Frink said to the Mankato Free Press newspaper. She said advocating for people with disabilities has been her passion since high school when she’d watch in horror as people with disabilities were bullied and treated with disrespect. Even in high school she started standing up to that kind of treatment, even if it made her unpopular with others at her school. As a nurse, she continued her work with people with disabilities, but it wasn’t until she attended a meeting at the New Ulm Public Library that she really responded to what she believes is her calling. After that day at the library, she spent the next chapter of her life working to change society’s attitudes about people with disabilities. Among her most public efforts are the plays she writes and directs featuring people with disabilities, including “Soph and Nana” and “Words.”
Courage Center awarded grant
U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), has selected Courage Center and its Operation Liberty program as a recipient of $75,000 in funding in support of Paralympic sport and physical activity programming for disabled veterans and disabled members of the armed forces.
More than $4.4 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been awarded to 95 community organizations around the country, including Courage Center. At Courage Center, the funds will be used to expose, teach and expand its Operation Liberty Paralympic sports program for disabled and injured veterans. It also means that Operation Liberty programming can continue to be offered free of charge to veterans, helping remove financial and physical barriers to their participation.
Through this program, grants ranging from $2,500 to $500,000 were provided to USOC partner organizations and community programs to increase the number and quality of opportunities for physically or visually impaired veterans to participate in physical activity within their home communities and in more advanced Paralympic sport programs at the regional and national levels.
“The grant funding gives Courage Center the opportunity to give back to disabled and injured veterans, helping them discover or rediscover competitive and athletic activities,” said Ta’avasa “JR” Mamea, Paralympic sports coordinator/Operation Liberty with Courage Center. Research has shown that regular participation in physical activity has a positive effect on a client’s rehabilitation, self-esteem, education, employment and overall health.
“We couldn’t be happier with this latest round of grants to be awarded to these new partner organizations,” said Chris Nowak, director, VA National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events. “These grants provide more outlets for our disabled veterans and injured service men and women to stay active and perhaps, ultimately, the opportunity to take their athleticism to the next level of competition as a U.S. Paralympian.”
“This funding is already having a tremendous impact on disabled veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. “Through the USOC/Veterans Affairs partnership many community programs have been able to expand their programming and provide increased opportunities for veterans to participate.”
Grant funding for this pro-gram is awarded by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, through funding provided by Veterans Affairs. The grants are provided to facilitate the growth of Paralympic sport programming for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.
Nordic Skiing World Cup events are held throughout the area
Some of the world’s best cross country skiers with physical disabilities competed in the upper Midwest in January and February on the second of three stops as part of the 2012 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Nordic Skiing World Cup series. The events in Cable, Wisc. And Minneapolis marked the first time the United States has hosted a major Paralympic Nordic ski event in seven years.
“We’re excited to bring elite competition onto our home soil,” said John Farra, director of High Performance Paralympic Nordic Skiing for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “This is an exceptional opportunity for many of our up-and-coming athletes to get some international experience two years out from the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.”
Events featured four cross country and two biathlon races where athletes could earn World Cup points. The first half of the competition was held Jan. 26-30 at Telemark Lodge in Cable, home of the famed Birkebeiner ski race. Competition concluded Feb. 1-2 at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
Top athletes scheduled to compete included Paralympic and world champion Katarzyna Rogowiec of Poland, who lost both forearms in a childhood farming accident. She claimed victories in the sprint, 5K and 15K at the recent World Cup stop in Sjusjoen, Norway.
The men’s circuit has been dominated by Russians, who won nine out of the 10 races in Norway.
There were several U.S. national team members to watch, including a St. Paul resident. Kelly Underkofler has a long record of success. Born without one of her forearms, Underkofler began cross country
skiing at age 3 and later competed for St. Olaf College. She’s a multiple national champion and has represented the United States in three Paralympic Winter Games, in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Another was Dan Cnossen, a Jamestown, Mich. Resident. The recent double-leg amputee Navy SEAL competes in the sit-ski division. He finished a career best seventh place in Norway with 9 for 10 shooting in the biathlon.
Sean Halsted of Ephrata, Wash. is a sit-skier who became paralyzed in 1998 after surviving a 40-foot fall from a helicopter during a rescue exercise with the Air Force. He has several top-10 finishes in World Cup and Paralympic Games competition.
Another athlete to keep track of is Andy Soule of Pearland, Texas. A sit-skier who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan in 2002, Soule became the first American to win an Olympic or Paralympic biathlon medal, earning a bronze during the Vancouver Games.
After the World Cup races, athletes had the opportunity to participate in the City of Lakes Loppet Feb. 4-5 in Theodore Wirth Park. The annual cross country ski festival draws 10,000 participants. The Loppet didn’t offer points for the World Cup but it traditionally is a popular event for adapted skiing.
U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, hosted the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup in partnership with Central Cross Country Ski Association of Madison, Wisc. and the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation of Minneapolis.