Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider
Gateway to Gold - an event that helps create new Paralympic athletes - is coming to Houston
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Now that the Astros have clinched the AL West and the Rockets are about to kick off the preseason, visions of another World Series and another run at the NBA Finals are the talk of this championship city.
But before you get too deep into dreaming about those championship runs, we want to remind you of two other Houston national champions you may not know about - Houston’s TIRR Memorial Hermann Junior Hotwheels basketball team and TIRR’s Junior Hotwheels softball team.
Yes, Houston produces national champions in adaptive sports too. You’ve likely seen video clips of the teams wheeling around the court and the diamond. They’re young, they’re fast and, in some cases, good enough to get college scholarships in their respective sports.
But have you wondered how amputees and the disabled found their way into adaptive sports and the Paralympic pipeline?
The first step, for many of them, is Gateway To Gold, a free program that changes lives.
Houston will host Gateway to Gold next Friday and Saturday at Turner Stadium. Launched in 2013, Gateway to Gold is a nationwide athlete identification and development strategy that exposes Americans with Paralympic-eligible impairments to Paralympic sport. And, to those who become elite athletes, the program leads them into the athlete pipeline for the U.S. Paralympic Team.
The annual Houston event is among the best in the country. It’s free to all children and adults with physical disabilities or visual impairments and allows participants to try out sports like wheelchair tennis, track and field and power lifting and learn about them on a beginner or intermediate level. They can also talk to coaches and athletes, test their skills and learn more about adaptive programs such as those at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
“What’s happening at Gateway to Gold is where it all starts,’’ said Peggy Turner, TIRR adapted sports coordinator.
Participants will have the chance to meet and be coached by some of the country’s top Paralympians, including three-time Paralympian Scot Severn, two-time Paralympian Karin Korb and Paralympic coach Wendy Gumbert and her husband Saul Mendoza, a six-time Paralympian from Mexico. In addition, Paralympian John Register, the USOC’s Paralympics Associate Director, Community and Veterans Programs, will be on hand.
Gumbert, who is not disabled, coached the U.S. Paralympic Rugby team to the first gold medal given in the sport in 2000. She also coaches track and field.
Severn was struck by lightning while serving with the US Army Reserve and was thrown more than 10 feet. The 50-year-old is one of the USA’s top shot put and discus throwers.
Korb was injured in a vault accident at the age of 17 and was introduced to wheelchair tennis 10 years later. At 50, she’s no longer competing, but does coach and said it was important for attendees to interact with disabled coaches.
“That’s one of the things that makes it so powerful and impactful,’’ Turner said
And, athletes do not have to know anything about the sports or sports they want to test out.
As Korb said, “My job is to elevate and empower whatever that person shows up with.’’
Turner said TIRR’s programs are all about inclusion and independence and Gateway To Gold teaches both of those. And they’ll be able to spread the news about an added incentive – equal pay for Paralympians.
The USOC just announced earlier this week at payouts for U.S. medalists at the Paralympic Games will be equal to those of Olympic medalists. Paralympic medalists will now earn $37,500 for each gold medal, $22,500 for each silver medal and $15,000 for each bronze. The raise will be retroactive to the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, where US athletes led the medal count with 36.
“Paralympians are an integral part of our athlete community and we need to ensure we’re appropriately rewarding their accomplishments,” USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said.
“Our financial investment in U.S. Paralympics and the athletes we serve is at an all-time high, but this was one area where a discrepancy existed in our funding model that we felt needed to change.
“I’m thrilled that we’ve brought parity and equality to our Operation Gold program and we're eager to continue to build on Team USA’s success in PyeongChang.”
Turner expects more than a few lives will change next weekend by just interacting with the coaches and understanding that disabilities don’t mean an end to competition, rather a chance to find an outlet through adaptive sports.
Or at the very least, they’ll open a door to an array of amazing possibilities.
For more information on Gateway to Gold, go to www.houstonsports.org