Using Role Models to Help Celebrate Paralympic Sport

By Mastro, James; Ahrens, Christopher et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Using Role Models to Help Celebrate Paralympic Sport


Mastro, James, Ahrens, Christopher, Statton, Nathan, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


For the purpose of this article, a role model is a person or challenge that inspires an individual to go beyond what is expected of him or her and to reach a specific goal. Role models can exemplify motivation, passion, and a genuine love of their life's work. All students need role models, and Paralympic sport athletes can be just that, especially for students with disabilities.

Pioneers in disability sport did not always have role models to look up to or emulate. It was not until the establishment of organizations such as the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) or the National Wheelchair Athletic Association that role models and mentors became accessible to future generations (Sherrill, 2004). Role models, people who are inspirational, heroes, and mentors are now abundant throughout disability sport.

One of the authors has defined a role model as

  a person that people can look up to and respect. This isn't limited to
  just professional or athletic achievement but how they live their
  lives. I feel as though Paralympic athletes can serve as role models
  for students both with and without disabilities. Generally, Paralympic
  athletes are not money-driven individuals, but truly participate for
  love of the sport.

This article describes how disability sport role models can be used in a physical education Paralympic unit.

Using Role Models in Physical Education

There are a variety of ways of using role models to educate and inspire students about disability sport in the physical education curriculum.

Speakers. Some athletes with disabilities are available to make presentations or speeches. They can be contacted through their disability sport group or through the individual athlete's web page. Topics could include empowerment, diversity, acceptance, stigma, handicapism, and stereotypes.

Demonstration Events. On a Paralympic sport day at school, it would be exciting for professional athletes or even a team (i.e., wheelchair basketball, Paralympic soccer, goalball) to come and participate in the program. Local teams that compete in a Paralympic sport are often willing to provide a demonstration of their skills and talents.

Helping to Teach the Sport. Teaching students a disability sport that they can excel in is probably the best way of incorporating the Paralympics in general physical education classes. Professional athletes with disabilities could come to school and help teach sports like goalball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair soccer, quad rugby, beep baseball, bocce, track and field, and others.

Field Trips. It might be possible to take the class on a field trip to a competition (e.g., a wheelchair basketball tournament) and have students interview the athletes before or after the game.

Examples of Role Models in Disability Sport

The Paralympic Games have provided more opportunities to recognize elite-level athletes with disabilities. Table 1 lists some examples of Paralympians who can be discussed in class as role models. The Wounded Warriors program--which allows wounded military personnel to participate in competitive disability sport, including the Paralympic Games--has also produced a number of role models whose personal stories can inspire students. Three of their stories are highlighted below.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Table 1. Role Model from Disability Sport and Their Accomplishments

Name            Sport                      Accomplishments

Chris     Paralympic        * Paralympic Soccer Team for 5 years as a
Ahrens    Soccer-Team       starting defender
          (cerebral
          palsy)

                            * Participated in the 2007, 2009; and
                            2011 World Championships, as well as in
                            the 2007 ParaPanamerican Games in Rio De
                            Janeiro, Brazil

Jean      Wheelchair road   * Eight-time winner of the Boston
Driscoll  racing, Boston    Marathon for women's wheel? … 

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