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From Erin Popovich To Lex Gillette, Meet 10 Paralympians Who Have Paved The Way For Future Team USA Athletes

By Joshua Clayton | Aug. 23, 2020, 10 a.m. (ET)

The Paralympic Games in Tokyo are officially one year away. The Paralympic Movement has come a long way in the 21st century with the help of a number of Team USA athletes who have been instrumental in raising awareness and proving the power of adaptive sports. 

While there are countless people that have contributed to the rising of the Paralympic Movement, here are 10 athletes that have done a great deal to advance the movement.

Dartanyon Crockett, Para Judo 

Crockett was born with Leber’s disease causing progressive vision loss. As a child, Crockett’s mother passed away when he was just eight-years old while his father battled substance abuse. Despite a tough childhood, Crockett went on to become a two-time Paralympian, winning bronze in 2012 and 2016.  

ESPN featured the story of Crockett and his long-time friend Leroy Sutton, who Crockett carried on his back to and from high school wrestling matches, in 2009. He’s spoken at The United States Air Force Academy’s National Character and Leadership Symposium and works as a brand ambassador for UNICEF Kid Power, which helps deliver food to malnourished children around the world.  

Lex Gillette, Para Track & Field 

Gillette, a blind long jumper and sprinter, has been one of the most riveting athletes to witness in U.S. Paralympics history. The four-time Paralympian and four-time medalist has also worked as a motivational speaker and athlete mentor for Classroom Champions. The four-time silver medalist will be looking to add a gold medal to his collection in 2021. 

Will Groulx, Wheelchair Rugby 

Groulx served in the U.S. Navy before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down in 2000. Groulx has made every Paralympic team since 2004 and won a gold and two bronze medals in wheelchair rugby before switching to the hand-cycling in 2013, where he won gold and two silvers in 2016.

Groulx has continued working to inspire young adaptive athletes as a member of Team Bridgestone through the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and hopes to help other veterans after retiring by becoming the sports director for Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Jessica Long, Para Swimming  

The decorated Para swimmer holds 23 Paralympic medals, 13 of which are gold, and has been the recipient of countless awards and honors, including the 77th AAU James E. Sullivan Award given to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.  

Oksana Masters, Para-cycling 

Masters has competed in cycling, Nordic skiing, rowing and biathlon in her four Paralympic appearances and is training to add to her eight medals in the 2021 with a focus on inspiring the next generation of athletes. 

She’s set to become the face of Oakley’s campaign working to unite athletes of all disciplines through Love of Sport. 

“When I think about the Games coming to LA in 2028, if there's like a 10-year-old kid that's watching the Paralympics in Tokyo or hearing our stories and seeing things through social media, that's going to open things up,” Masters said. 

Tatyana McFadden, Para Track & Field 

Before becoming one of the most female track and field athletes of all-time, McFadden filed a lawsuit after Maryland high school officials prohibited her from racing with her school’s track program in 2005. She eventually won the lawsuit, which led to the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act, paving the way for an eventual national mandate guaranteeing equal access to extracurricular activities for all students.

Erin Popovich, Para Swimming 

A member of the Team USA Hall of Fame, Popovich has brought in 19 total Paralympic medals, 14 of which are gold. She won three gold and three silver medals in her Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Games Sydney 2000 and came back in 2004 to win seven gold medals in seven races. 

Popovich has had success outside of the pool as well since her retirement and currently serves as the Director for Paralympic swimming at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.   

Melissa Stockwell, Paratriathlon 

The two-time Paralympian was the first female soldier to lose a limb in active combat in the Iraq War, and received a Purple Heart and Bronze star for her service in the U.S. Army. She also became the first Iraq War veteran to qualify for the Paralympic Games and was the flag bearer for Team USA at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008 Closing Ceremony. 

Along with her successful Paralympic career, Stockwell co-founded the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club and serves on the board of directors for the Wounded Warriors Project, USA Triathlon Foundation and USA Triathlon Women’s Committee. 

Hunter Woodhall, Para Track & Field 

Woodhall is the first double-amputee track and field athlete to earn a Division I athletic scholarship. He competed against able-bodied runners using carbon fiber blades his freshman year at University of Arkansas and received First-Team All-American Honors along with a nomination for NCAA Game Changer of the Year. 

Deja Young, Para Track & Field 

Young was at the top of her game after winning gold in both the 100- and 200-meter T46 at the Paralympic Games in Rio, becoming one of the top up-and-coming Para athletes for Team USA, however she still struggled with her mental health. She’s been open about her mental health journey with hopes of helping young people who are also struggling, earning her degree in social work at Wichita State. 

“I am grateful today that I am able to share my story to try and help others from traveling too deep into that dark tunnel,” she wrote earlier this year. 

Related Athletes

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Dartanyon Crockett

Judo
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Lex Gillette

USParaTrackandField
Track and Field
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Will Groulx

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Jessica Long

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Oksana Masters

Nordic Skiing
Rowing
Cycling
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Tatyana McFadden

USParaTrackandField
Nordic Skiing
US Paralympics
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Erin Popovich

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Melissa Stockwell

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Hunter Woodhall

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Deja Young

Track and Field