By Joe Ledford, morning show producer and spinal cord injury survivor

The Paralympic Games are kicking off in Rio.  I have greater interest and respect now for the Paralympic Games than I did in 2013. Before then the Paralympics was just something nice for handicapped people to do after the “real’ Olympics was done. Then I became one of millions of disabled people fighting to grasp a “new normal.”

On a cold December morning in 2013, I stepped up onto a sidewalk in downtown Cleveland and stepped onto a patch of black ice. my feet went out from under me and I landed on the base of my neck. I tried to get up… nothing moved. I was paralyzed from the neck down. The bone surrounding my spinal cord had crushed in, bruising it.

Courtesy of Joe Ledford

Courtesy of Joe Ledford

After a life-threatening surgery, tons of prayer, great support from family, friends and CBS Radio Cleveland… Oh, and three months of intense physical rehabilitation, my feeling returned to almost normal levels. I learned to eat, dress myself and to walk again. There have been some lasting physical issues, but I was blessed. I was back to work at WNCX within a year of my injury.

Many who suffer catastrophic injuries never regain what they lost. It may be mobility or limbs or sight that’s taken in a moment. Certainly you lose a degree of self-sufficiency and dignity when you must rely on others to dress, wash or clean your “bathroom areas.” Believe me, I know. I know the possibility of spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair was terrifying and depressing.

This is why the Paralympic Games is so amazing.

I greatly respect these athletes are not allowing their physical disabilities rob them of the joy of competition. They work insanely hard to be the best they can be in their given sport, just as able-bodied athletes do. They display courage by just entering the arena, while many others would use their impairment as an excuse to never try. They are athletes. Champions, every one.

It’s sad these games don’t receive even a fraction of the media coverage the Olympics do. They have every bit of the same drama and triumph of the human spirit. These athletes should be celebrated. Maybe it makes people uncomfortable. Maybe you can’t get sponsors to buy into it. Maybe people just don’t care. It’s a pity, because their missing some wonderful sport.

Higher, faster, stronger.


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