A year from now, the best Para athletes from around the world will be in Tokyo celebrating the Opening Ceremony of the 2021 Paralympic Games.
Mixed in with veteran medal winners and competitors will be a slew of new faces looking to make their marks on the world stage.
Fans don’t have to wait another year to get to know some of the U.S. athletes who hope to be included in that group, however. Keep reading to learn a little about Liz Dunn (wheelchair rugby), Noah Malone (track), Emma Rose Ravish (archery) and Matthew Torres (swimming) and get ready to cheer them on in 2021.
Sport: Wheelchair Rugby
Age in Tokyo: 31
Hometown: Warren, Pennsylvania
Claim to Fame: Dunn is just the second woman ever to be named to the USA Wheelchair Rugby national team.
Get To Know Liz
Although wheelchair rugby has always technically been a coed sport, there haven’t been many women to make it to the U.S. national team.
Dunn, in fact, is only No. 2.
She hopes to be the first to compete in the Paralympic Games.
The 29-year-old who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had been playing recreationally for about four years when she one day got friend requests on Facebook from Paralympic veterans and team leaders Chuck Aoki and Joe Delagrave. She was as surprised as anyone when they wanted to know how long she’d been playing, what her classification was and whether she had any interest in pursuing the sport more seriously.
“I was completely shocked, kind of overwhelmed, excited and terrified,” said Dunn, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident at the age of 20.
She went to a tryout and continued to attend camps with the team until she was one of 16 athletes selected from a camp last December to be part of the Paralympic Training Team, from which 12 athletes were to be selected to go to Tokyo.
Things have been on hold with the team since COVID-19 started, partly because those with spinal cord injuries are in a high-risk category for complications from the disease. They have been meeting virtually, however.
“We have weekly phone calls through Zoom where we’ll get together and talk about what we can do to improve, watch video clips and film together,” she said. “Then we have monthly meetings with all the staff and team. We’re still able to communicate even though we can’t be together in person.”
When she’s not playing, Dunn works at the University of Pittsburgh’s Model Center on Spinal Cord Injury as a research associate. One current project follows up with patients one year after injury and then once every five years so that researchers can use the data to find trends.
“We have people that are 10, 15 years into the study and we’re starting to follow up with people in their 20th year,” said Dunn, who has a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics.
A new study she’s also working on is creating a program to help people with disabilities make healthier changes through diet and exercise.
Sport: Track and field
Age in Tokyo: 19
Hometown: Fisher, Indiana
Claim to Fame: Malone helped the U.S. Para track team win gold at the world championships in the universal 4x100.
Get To Know Noah
The highlight videos of sprinter Noah Malone racing look similar to those of other seriously fast teenagers who blow by the competition and dominate among their high school and club teams.
The difference with Malone compared to most other sprinters is that he’s legally blind.
Malone was diagnosed in the eighth grade with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, which has left him with 20/400 vision in his left eye and 20/600 in his right. Although he has some peripheral vision, he can’t see what’s in front of him.
Not that the condition slowed him down any.
Malone continued to compete for Hamilton Southeastern High School, attending classes both there and at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and won a state title in the 200-meter in 2019. This summer he was named “Mr. Track and Field” by the Indiana Association of Track and Cross-Country Coaches despite not racing in 2020 because of injury and then the cancelation of sports due to COVID-19.
Now, Malone is poised to be one of the breakout stars of the 2021 Games in Tokyo after winning the silver medal in the 100-meter at the 2019 Parapan American Games and making it to the semifinals in the same event in his world championship debut. He also ran the first leg and helped the U.S. win its first-ever gold medal in the universal 4x100 at the world championships.
The postponement of the Tokyo Games, while disappointing, wasn’t all bad, said the 18-year-old.
“I was actually OK (with Tokyo being postponed) because it gives me an extra year to prepare,” he said.
For now, Malone is focused on what was to be his “other” big endeavor of the fall of 2020: starting college at Indiana State. The freshman is believed to be the first legally blind sprinter to receive a scholarship to run at a Division I school.
No matter the obstacles in his way, Malone said, the goals never changed.
“I mean, that’s just the way it happened naturally; I knew I couldn’t really think of it any other way,” he said. “That’s just how I looked at it. It was probably the healthiest way to look at it.”
Emma Rose Ravish
Age in Tokyo: 21
Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
Claim to Fame: Ravish was named to her first world championship team 36 hours after getting her Paralympic classification and is an American record holder.
Get To Know Emma Rose
Emma Rose Ravish and her mother were just leaving their hotel in Arizona to go grab some pizza midway at her first major national archery competition when a tournament official stopped them to talk.
Ravish knew the tournament was also a qualifier for the world championships, but that wasn’t why she was there. She didn’t even have her official Paralympic qualification coming into the competition, so neither she nor her mother were ready for what the official said.
“She said, ‘Oh, so, you’ll be getting the paperwork for the Netherlands,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” said Rose, 20. “And she said, ‘You made the world team.’ My mom and I were just awestruck.”
The invite became official 72 hours after getting her classification, and two months later she was on her way to ’S-Hertogenbosch for the World Para Archery Championships, where she made her international debut, won her first-round match and finished 17th overall. She was the youngest member of Team USA at the competition.
Nothing’s been the same since for the 20-year-old, who was born without legs following her biological mother’s drug and alcohol use while pregnant.
Not only did she get her first taste of competing at such a high level, but she also got to meet other Para archers as well as three-time Olympian Brady Ellison and many of the other athletes that made a big impact on her while watching the 2012 Olympic Games.
“I thought I loved archery before that but being there made me love it even more,” she said.
Ravish is now a national record holder and hopes having an extra year to practice and prepare will help her reach her goal of competing at the Paralympics next summer.
“I’m at a loss for words, honestly,” she said on how things have changed since the spring of 2019. “In high school I had work and practice and all of a sudden after Arizona everything is different. I’m not a high school kid; I’m someone who’s started in their life and passion. It’s matured me in a good way. I’ve learned so much from the team, just how to handle myself and handle myself in a way that reflects who I am and that reflects who Team USA is.”
Age in Tokyo: 20
Hometown: Ansonia, Connecticut
Claim to Fame: Made his Parapan American Games debut in 2019 and won four individual and two team relay medals.
Get To Know Matthew
Matthew Torres has a favorite quote, and, not surprisingly for someone who grew up in New England, it’s from Tom Brady.
It’s pinned to the top of his Twitter page, and reads, “I’m grateful for you doubting me and I’m determined to prove you wrong again.”
For Torres, who was born with amniotic band syndrome and is missing half his right leg, it’s something he said has inspired him in the face of people over the years who’ve seen him and thought he may not be able to do certain things.
“It’s like, OK, well let me prove you wrong and then go out and show the world,” said Torres, who also has deformities on both hands and moderate hearing loss and competes in the S8, SM8 and SB8 classifications. “It’s proving those people wrong that brings you the most amount of energy. There’s no need for negativity in the pool, so showing them and proving them wrong is a really good way to get back at them.”
Torres started swimming in 2008 after watching Michael Phelps win a record eight gold medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing. In 2019 he made his Parapan American Games debut and won four individual and two relay medals, including gold in the S8 100-meter backstroke and his favorite event, the 400-meter freestyle.
He hoped that right now he’d be in Tokyo, ready to compete in his first-ever Paralympic Games, but instead Torres spent August getting ready to move back to campus at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, for his sophomore year. The Ansonia, Connecticut, native is hoping that the school’s swim team will be able to compete later on in the year, but for now they only know that they’ll be starting practice about a week after returning to campus.
If something happens and there’s no more practice, he said, he’ll look into taking classes online and moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, so that he can train for next summer.
When Torres isn’t swimming, the finance major helps people to achieve their financial goals through the company he founded during quarantine, Going for Gold Credit Services.