It’s hard to believe that the XI Paralympic Winter Games have come and gone. The incredible athletes of Team USA returned home with a total of 18 medals—9 bronze, 7 silver and 2 gold—and a level of pride and respect that simply can’t be measured.
We hope you had the chance to see some of the competition: These were the first Paralympics ever to be televised in the United States (the networks of NBC aired more than 50 hours of the Games). If you missed the coverage, we hope you’ll catch up by watching some of the videos of Paralympic action posted to the Sochi 2014 website.
Of the 80 athletes on Team USA, 18 were veterans—a huge increase from the 2010 games, when just five of 50 athletes were vets—and eight of those veterans are members of Team Semper Fi.
Two of those Team Semper Fi athletes, Cpl. Paul Schaus from New York and Sgt. Josh Sweeney from Arizona, are Marine veterans and double above-the-knee amputees—and now, they’re also gold medalists. They both competed in ice sledge hockey, and it was Josh who scored the second-period goal that drove Team USA to a 1-0 victory over the Russian Federation. Another Miracle on Ice!
Sgt. Jon Lujan, a Marine veteran from Colorado who has an incomplete spinal cord injury, not only competed in alpine skiing, but was chosen to be the flag-bearer for Team USA during the opening ceremonies.
“That was probably the most surprising thing about my 2014 Paralympics experience,” Jon said, “which was just an amazing experience all around. I’ll never forget how gracious the host country was and the feeling of having my family there to support me.”
Sgt. Omar Bermejo, a Marine veteran from Michigan and a single-arm amputee who competed in Nordic skiing, was also grateful to have his family in Sochi.
“My mother, sisters, and girlfriend cheering loudly right before my first race will be my most enduring memory of the Games,” says Omar. “They motivated me so much and I wanted to give them a great show. I loved it.
“I think the most surprising thing about my experience was the level of respect the spectators and volunteers have for people like us,” Omar continued. “They treated us like superstars—taking pictures with us and engaging in conversations. I loved it! I wish every day was like any day I spent in Sochi, but I also know I had to work hard for it.”
Hard work is a hallmark of any athlete competing at the highest level, and Paralympians like Jon and Omar serve as powerful examples to everyone.
“These athletes have trained hard for years to earn the title of Paralympian,” said Semper Fi Fund Manager and Sports Consultant Paul Fitzgerald. “While it’s true that not every service member participating in Team Semper Fi and Team America's Fund have the goal of reaching the Paralympics, it’s absolutely true that they have all found inspiration in seeing the success of their fellow brothers overcoming obstacles and achieving theirs goals.”
“Goals are reached for and achieved every day for someone recovering in a hospital, in physical therapy or at their local 5k,” Paul continued, “but to see someone they know and can identify with achieve such a high level on an international stage is a visible and powerful reminder that if they work hard they too can achieve their goals no matter who, what and where they are.”
Read more about some of the Team Semper Fi athletes who competed in Sochi:
Sochi Paralympics overview
Lt. Dan Cnossen (double above-the-knee amputee, Nordic skiing)
Petty Officer First Class Kevin Burton (visually impaired, Nordic skiing)
Petty Officer Second Class Tyler Burdick (double leg limb salvage, snowboarding)
Sgt. Omar Bermejo (single-arm amputee, Nordic skiing)
Sgt. Jon Lujan (incomplete spinal cord injury, alpine skiing)
U.S. Paralympic Team Wins Gold Medal with 1-0 Win Over Russia