The future of the Paralympics represents a return to the games' past for some soldiers. The event was initially conceived as a rehabilitation programme for injured soldiers.
Five military veterans with disabilities competed on American teams in the Paralympics that closed here Sunday, said Charlie Huebner, chief of US Paralympics, while 19 Canadian and three British military members with disabilities observed the games and trained alongside Paralympic competitors.
AdvertisementThe three countries are working together on programmes to encourage disabled soldiers and former soldiers to play sports and aim for Paralympics-level competition.
Australia is considering joining them, Jason Hellwig, chief executive of the Australian Paralympic Committee, told AFP. "It?s certainly something we?ve been looking at."
The formal involvement of the military marks a return to the original mission of the games, said Huebner.
The Paralympics originated in 1948 with archery competitions at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, an English rehabilitation centre for British World War II soldiers with spinal injuries.
Over time soldiers from other countries joined in, and when the 1960 Games were held in Rome -- then host of the Summer Olympics -- the name was changed to the Paralympics, referring to "parallel" to the Olympics.
But the focus of disabled sport organizations for soldiers is "not just to make the Paralympic team ... but to ensure young men and women have and opportunity to participate in sport," said Huebner.
"When people are physically active, are jumping back into life, research shows a higher proportion is successful in education, and career," Huebner said. "Sports is not only physical but mental rehabilitation to allow people to return to the norm."
The Paralympic flag was raised at the Games' opening March 12 by Sgt. Karen McCoy and Master Cpl Mick Trauner, Canadians in Canada?s four-year-old Soldier On sports programme for members and former members with disabilities.
McCoy, who lost her leg to cancer, is a hopeful for Canada?s wheelchair basketball team in the 2012 Summer Games in London, while Trauner -- whose legs were amputated after an injury in Afghanistan -- recently joined the programme.
The three British soldiers who spent the Paralympics in Vancouver "were not competing in the Games, but as 'Paralympics potentials'.
Andy Soule, a sit-skier on the American cross country team and a former American soldier, said at the Games in Whistler, "Sports have been absolutely fantastic for me to keep me active and give me something positive to do.
"I?m fit and I?m happy," said Soule, whose legs were amputated after a battle injury fighting in Afghanistan. "This is a dream come true."