5 heartwarming, inspiring stories from the first week at the Paralympics

Brad Snyder and guide Greg Billington of Team United States react as they cross the finish line to win the gold medal during the men's PTVI Triathlon on day 4 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Photo by Lintao Zhang. (Getty Images)

The Paralympics got underway in Tokyo this past week, and much like the Olympics that were held last month, it didn’t take long for athletes to produce special moments that inspired the world.

Here are five heartwarming examples so far from the Paralympics.

5. Afghan athletes arrive amid chaos.

With the events in Afghanistan that led to a Taliban takeover of the country, it was initially thought that Afghan Paralympians Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli wouldn’t be able to compete because they wouldn’t be able to get to Tokyo.

International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons released a statement saying the organization was notified roughly two weeks ago that the athletes wouldn’t travel to Tokyo -- but then a global effort led to them being evacuated from Kabul to Paris. From the French capital, the two flew to Tokyo and will compete in the Games.

Khudadadi, the first female Paralympian from Afghanistan since 2004, will compete Tuesday in taekwondo. Rasouli is a track athlete who will compete in the 400-meter T47 event Friday.

4. A swimming record is broken 4 times.

Gabriel Bandeira of Team Brazil celebrates winning the gold in the Men's 100m Butterfly - S14 final on day 1 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. (Photo by Naomi Baker) (Getty Images)

Swimmers in the S14 100-meter butterfly event were like speedboats in the water, given the Paralympic record wasn’t broken just once or twice, but rather, four times during the competition.

Brazil’s Gabriel Bandeira broke the record twice, including in the event finals, to win the gold medal. Australia’s Liam Schulter and Great Britain’s Reece Dunn also swam faster than the original record.

3. El Salvador athlete gets a historic medal.

Flag bearer Herbert Aceituno of Team El Salvador leads his delegation in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. (Photo by Carmen Mandato). (Getty Images)

When he was born with achondroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism, doctors told Herbert Aceituno’s mother that he had three months to live due to the condition, according to olympics.com.

Aceituno survived well past that mark, but then said he was bullied when he started attending school.

Still, Aceituno overcame those obstacles, got into weightlifting, and earned a historic achievement for his home country of El Salvador. Aceituno then became the first athlete from his country to win a medal at the Paralympics when he won the bronze in the 59kg weightlifting competition.

“Disability comes from the mind, not the body,” Aceituno said when he arrived in Tokyo.

2. A refugee team inspires.

For the first time, the IPC is supporting an official refugee team of Paralympians, with one female and five male athletes inspiring the world with their stories of perseverance despite not officially representing a country.

  • Parfait Hakizimana grew up in Burundi before fleeing to Rwanda, where he lives in a refugee camp with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, according to ESPN. Hakizimana will compete in the K44 class in taekwondo and teaches the sport to younger kids at his camp. His left arm is permanently debilitated from a gunshot wound suffered in 1996 during civil war in his village.
  • Alia Issa is the first female to compete at the Paralympic Games on the refugee team. She will compete in the F32 class of the club throw. She suffered brain damage as a 4-year-old and has lived in Greece and Syria.
  • Abbas Karimi was born in Afghanistan missing both arms, and lived at refugee camps in Turkey before moving to the U.S. in 2017, according to Sky News.
  • Sharad Nasajpour is a refugee from Iran who is now living in Arizona. Competing in the discus throw, Nasajpour lives with cerebral palsy.
  • Ibrahim Al Hussein had to have his right leg amputated after being injured in a bomb blast in his native Syria. He was trying to help a friend from a sniper. He then moved to Greece and will compete as a swimmer.
  • Anas Al Kalifa will compete in the paracanoe event in the KL1 and VL2 classes, doing so less than three years after becoming paralyzed after falling from a roof in Germany. A refugee from Syria who was installing solar panels in order to send money back to Syria for his family, Al Kalifa called his journey to Germany in the first place “the journey of death,” according to ESPN. Al Kalifa hitchhiked, jumped trains and spent nights in the woods traveling from Syria to Turkey, Greece and then Germany.

1. American who lost his eyesight in Afghanistan becomes the first to do this.

Brad Snyder and guide Greg Billington of Team United States exit the swim stage during the men's PTVI Triathlon on day 4 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. (Photo by Adam Pretty) (Getty Images)

After winning six gold medals combined in swimming at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics, Brad Snyder decided he needed a new challenge.

Snyder, who lost his sight during an IED explosion while serving for the Navy in Afghanistan in 2011, switched to competing in the triathlon and qualified for the Tokyo Games.

His newness in the sport didn’t show, as he became the first American man in either the Olympics or Paralympics to win a gold medal in the event.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.