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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.

FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 08, 2010

Paralympic Games showcase athletes with extraordinary abilities

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The Paralympics are a great example of emphasizing people's abilities rather than disabilities. Can you find an example of an athlete or someone else featured in the news who has overcome obstacles?
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Hundreds of people with disabilities carried the Paralympic torch on its way to Vancouver. Find someone you've seen in the news who exemplifies determination or strength and might have been a good torchbearer. It needn't be an athlete, nor someone with a disability.
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People with disabilities often need to rely on other senses to replace sight or hearing, or on adaptive equipment to help them be mobile. Close your eyes. What would you do if you had to use the computer to find articles and read stories -- but could not see? What about if you had to watch a video and could not hear? Talk about ways you could adapt -- just as the Paralympians have adapted to compete in their sports.

By Nancy Hanus
Michigan State University

The Olympics may be over, but another group of more than 1,300 elite athletes from 43 countries are preparing to compete this week in Vancouver. They are Paralympians. The Paralympic Games are Olympic-style competition for athletes with disabilities. The games are NOT about the athletes' disabilities -- but rather emphasize their extreme athletic prowess, just as the Olympics do. Some of the sports are alpine and cross-country skiing, biathlon, wheelchair curling and sledge (sled) hockey. The term 'Paralympic' comes from the Greek word "para," which means "alongside." The Paralympics are held about two weeks after the Olympic games conclude, and take place in the same venue as the Olympics.

In the games, which start March 12, athletes compete on or with equipment modified for their disabilities. For example, alpine skiers with no legs compete on something called a "sit-ski." A visually impaired skier uses a sighted guide who gives the athlete verbal cues. Skiers with one leg ski on one ski. "When I put on a mono-ski, I feel like I'm putting on a pair of legs," says Tyler Walker, a U.S. favorite. The biathlon combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. In the Paralympic biathlon, adaptive equipment is used. For example, a biathlete who is visually impaired hears "tones" that differ depending on whether his or her rifle is trained on the bull's eye. In this way, athletes can find the target with their sense of hearing rather than their sense of sight. In sledge hockey, athletes sit on two-blade "sledges" under which the puck can pass. The game is very much like an "able-bodied" hockey game -- fast-paced, competitive, aggressive. Athletes use two sticks, each with two edges -- a sharp edge for propelling themselves on the ice, and a blade edge for shooting and passing the puck. Sledge hockey is a very exciting sport to watch, and one of the favorites among Paralympics fans.

The Paralympics are smaller in scope than the Olympics, and get much less media attention. You won't find most of the competition covered on regular television, for example. But specialized media outlets, such as ParalympicSportTV.com, will be showing events online. And several athletes have blogs and twitter accounts as well. On Twitter, you can follow the Paralympics with the hash tag #paralympics

Official says: "You look at it and you can't really believe it," Vancouver Olympic Organizing president John Furlong told the Globe and Mail newspaper after watching the gold-medal sledge hockey game in Turin in 2006. "You're not sure even what to think. You have to almost see it to believe it. It's a stunner to watch. The energy was just over the top."

Athlete says: Caitlin Sarabbi, alpine skier who has a rare disease that required 56 reconstructive surgeries, didn't let her disability stop her from entering Harvard as a pre-med student and capturing five U.S. alpine skiing championships. She said: "My goal my whole life was to get into a good college and become a doctor. Then I discovered this whole world of adaptive skiing. And it changed my life."

Different abilities: Skier Lauren Woolstencroft told the Vancouver Sun: "We train all year; we're full-time athletes. There are mental issues within perfectly able-bodied people that are just as difficult for them to deal with as is a physical disability. If someone says: 'Are you disabled?' I'd say yes because I'm not ashamed of it. It's just part of who I am. But if you say, 'Do I feel that I have any disabilities?' I feel I can do everything just as well as anyone else can."

Nancy Hanus, former director of New Media for The Detroit News, is currently the online multiplatform producer/editor-in-residence at The Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences. She is the former editor-in-chief of www.ican.com, a Web site for and about people with disabilities.