That is the sense that officials are hoping to proffer by staging the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships at the College of San Mateo from Friday to Sunday.
“These meets tend to be life-changing for the people involved,” said Cathy Sellers, the high-performance director for U.S. Paralympics track and field. “Not just for the athletes, but for the fans, the volunteers, the officials and the parents of children with disabilities. This is the first time they’ll witness a person who might not have any legs or arms perform amazing athletic feats. It’s really eye-opening.”
The Bay Area has never before hosted the national Paralympic track and field championships. While the region has a strong history of track and field athletes — Stanford and Cal consistently produce Olympians and San Jose State was the epicenter for track and field in the late 60s — the Paralympic athletic programs are still in their infancy here.
The event could act as a flashpoint for local athletic organizations, high school programs and advocacy groups to embrace Paralympic athletics as a reasonable and achievable goal for local residents with disabilities.
“I think there is a misconception that people with disabilities are frail or fragile,” said George Rehmet, the meet director for the national championships in San Mateo. “This event will do a lot to dispel those myths.”
Rehmet said the Bay Area has the right combination of ideal weather conditions and strong disabled facilities to make it a centerpiece of the national Paralympic track and field scene.
“There is no doubt that Bay Area definitely has the potential to be a strong incubator of Paralympic track and field athletes,” Rehmet said.
Sellers says she has invited officials from the California Interscholastic Federation — the body that oversees high school athletics in the state — to the event in San Mateo. Similar officials from Ohio and Texas attended prior Paralympic national track and field championship events and established Paralympic races in their home states afterward.
“We’re really hoping to reach out to children and their parents early,” Sellers said. “The goal is to build a foundation of young Paralympic athletes.”
Local residents with disabilities will be allowed to attend the three-day event in San Mateo for free. While there, they’ll get to witness a slew of world-record holders compete in the games, including Tatyana McFadden, a 10-time world champion who is paralyzed below the waist. The Bay Area will be represented by San Francisco resident Steven Toyoji and Stanford graduate Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt, among others.