The Power of the Parallel in Paralympics at the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum
Paralympics: it means parallel to the Olympics which comes from the Greek word, “Olympiad,” held every 4 years. Unfortunately, a true parallel between the two mega sports events that occur only a few weeks apart from one another, is yet to be achieved. The Paralympic Movement continues to fight for equity and equal representation every day in every aspect of life. Despite being elite athletes with equal training and tremendous sacrifice, Paralympians, on average, receive significantly less recognition and sponsorship money than do Olympians. The media only reinforces that by overly dramatizing the actions taken by someone with a disability creating what’s called an “inspiration porn,” which undermines the true athletic achievements of elite athletes. But last week during my visit to the U.S Olympic & Paralympic Museum. I felt “the parallel” in Paralympics for the first time in almost 10 years that I’ve been part of this world. The U.S Olympic & Paralympic Museum has truly created a space that equally represents and celebrates the trials and triumphs of ALL elite athletes in America while providing fascinating visual and audio cues for those interested in history, context, and fun. (yes, so much fun!)
Next to any Olympian’s story is without an exception a Paralympian’s, their powerful image, background, achievements, perhaps the wheelchair they used to win a Gold medal or the prosthetic leg they wore in a race. You could either help strategize a sled hockey game with the help of the Paralympic Gold Medalist &US Veteran, Rico Roman or ask questions to the 4-time Paralympian &Gold medalist in wheelchair basketball, a smiling Matt Scott on the screen. I saw kids analyzing every item on display with great curiosity and awe. I watched people race against a wheelchair racer or an amputee runner only to realize how much faster their Paralympian opponents were.
It makes me wonder what this brand new museum (opened its doors in July 2019) has achieved or may achieve for the Paralympic Movement. For an average visitor who may think they’re going to a museum about the Olympics, the USOPM instantly becomes more than just “an Olympics Museum.”
By the time visitors leave the premises, after about 3-4 hours of fascinating multimedia interactions, they have a strong awareness and understanding of what a Paralympian means and more importantly, what it takes to be one: the extreme amount of courage, sacrifice, and work ethic.
If anything I’d hope that visitors would get to realize that Olympians and Paralympians are indeed equal and will start raising the same questions we’ve been asking for decades: “Why is a Paralympian under-resourced, underfunded, and underrepresented all the time?”, “Why can we not watch these incredible men and women compete more often on the TV?”
This museum has the potential to create lifelong Paralympics fans and many new ambassadors to the Paralympic Movement and for that, I’m extremely grateful to the architects, designers, curators, and the entire staff at the USOPM. special shoutout to Gary for being our unofficial tour guide and gifting me a museum pin during our visit and the U.S. Paralympian, Tyler TC Carter for being so friendly and welcoming to us.
I am in awe of this museum and everything it stands for and simply cannot wait to be back here and continue to stay involved with the USOPM.