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Paralympians Ready For Double Duty

By Greg Bates | March 06, 2014, 6:21 p.m. (ET)

Josh Sweeney, Amy Purdy, Jon Lujan and Tatyana McFadden will compete in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, beginning March 7.

Amy Purdy is about to embark on a busy stretch.

The 34-year-old snowboarder will be juggling competing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and training to take part in the hit television show Dancing with the Stars.

Snowboarding, which is making its debut as a Paralympic event, doesn’t take place until March 14, so Purdy will compete at the Games and then fly out to Los Angeles the next day for the first Dancing with the Stars episode two days later.

“The timing is perfect,” Purdy said. “I think it’s so great that I can be here and represent my country and the sport that I love and other people with disabilities, and I’m able to use that as a platform for what we’re doing over here. … I’m grateful that I’m here competing and I’ve been chosen for the team, and I’m grateful that I’ve been chosen for Dancing with the Stars.”

Purdy’s Dancing with the Stars partner Derek Hough — who is a five-time winner on the reality show — traveled to Sochi and arrived on March 6. Purdy and Hough met last week and were able to train and throw out ideas for their routine. The duo is hoping to get some time in Sochi to rehearse and gel on the dance floor.

“At first I was a little bit apprehensive because (I’m so busy) and obviously the Paralympics is my No. 1 focus,” said Purdy, who was instrumental in helping launch snowboarding in the Paralympics. “I started to realize that I knew we would have some downtime and in that downtime we’re kind of working out anyways. So I thought maybe I could make this work, and I think it’s a healthy distraction.”

Purdy, who is the only double amputee snowboarder in the entire Paralympic field, is planning on taking practice runs on the snowboard course in the mornings. She believes her practice schedule won’t go too deep into each day because the runs and lifts are short, so it won’t eat up a great deal of time.

“Then I come back and take a little time off, and then I’ll be able to meet up with Derek and we’ll be working on our dance for that first show, which premieres on March 17,” said Purdy, the first U.S. Paralympian in Dancing with the Stars history. “So my schedule is very hectic, but I’m kind of used to it being this way.”

Purdy, a Las Vegas native, is currently ranked No. 2 in the world in Paralympic snowboard cross.

Increase in military veterans

Alpine skier Jon Lujan and sled hockey player Josh Sweeney are two of 16 U.S. military veterans who will compete at the Paralympic Winter Games. There are also two active military members.

Lujan, who was chosen as the Opening Ceremony flag bearer for Team USA, and Sweeney are both retired Marine Corps sergeants.

“I think it’s awesome in the fact that we’re almost getting a second chance to represent our country,” said Sweeney, who resides in Live Oak, Texas. “Being injured, I never thought I’d be able to do something like this again or be able to represent my country again. Having a second chance just means a lot to me.”

“Being able to represent Team USA is an honor,” said Lujan, who lives in Littleton, Colo. “Obviously Josh and I both served our country in the military. Now we’re transitioning to para-athletes, and it’s special.”

Having 18 U.S. military members compete in this year’s Winter Games is a significant jump from the five who competed in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Our partnership with the Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs and other organizations all over the country have created great opportunities for thousands of veterans to use sport in their rehab,” said Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the United States Olympic Committee. “No doubt our veterans and our military are very competitive, so it was a simple transition to think that people were going to pursue excellence and pursue competition at the Paralympic level.”

Lujan believes there is an instant trust with veterans and that’s brought to each team they play on.

“I think the advantages we have is that we already have the drive and determination, and people don’t need to tell us where to be, what to do and how to do it,” Lujan said.

Return home for McFadden

It’s going to be a special time in Sochi for Tatyana McFadden, not just because it’s her first Winter Games, but because it’s the country where she was born.

The U.S. cross-country skier grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was adopted at age 6 by a U.S. family.

McFadden’s birth mother will be attending some of her Paralympic events and McFadden’s adoptive family will also be in attendance.

“It’s definitely been a dream of mine for that moment to happen and seeing my whole family is definitely going to be a huge fulfillment. I’m just going to take that energy and put it into my skiing,” said McFadden, who lives in Champaign, Ill., and is a 10-time medalist in the summer Paralympic Games in track & field. “I’m just going to live in that moment. Just seeing (my family) at competitions is going to be an experience I’ll never forget.”

Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wis., who has covered Green Bay Packers games for a number of media outlets for the past seven seasons. He has been a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc., since 2012.

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