One year out: U.S. athletes look ahead to Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

By Brianna Tammaro | Sept. 09, 2015, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will host the first Paralympic Games in South America in 2016.

With the countdown exceeding 365 days until one of the world’s biggest sporting events, U.S. athletes are looking to make dreams a reality at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. From Sept. 7-18, 178 nations will come together for a festive showcase of Brazilian culture and picturesque backdrops to mark history—the first Paralympic Games in South America. As the excitement for Rio ramps up, find out what 16 U.S. Paralympians and Paralympic hopefuls are anticipating for the 2016 edition of the Paralympic Games.

Three-time Paralympic swimming medalist Tucker Dupree: “Brazil is one of my favorite places to visit in the world. It has amazing beaches, phenomenal steak and cuisine, and is an all-around phenomenal place to visit. I know that Brazil will do a great job at hosting the world and the atmosphere will be very energetic and colorful.”

Two-time Paralympic sitting volleyball medalist Heather Erickson: “The Paralympic Games is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. For a Paralympic athlete, it is an amazing feeling to go to a place where you aren't seen for your disability but as an athlete representing your country as an elite athlete at the top of your game. I think my favorite part about Rio, though, will be hopefully getting the opportunity to stand on the podium with my team listening to our national anthem. There is no better feeling then standing there watching your country’s flag raise above the rest.”

Sitting volleyball Paralympian Eric Duda: “I was told that volleyball for both indoor and outdoor in the Olympics has already sold out, so that tells me the people of Rio cannot get enough of our sport. I cannot wait to see how electric it will be for the Paralympics. In 2007 for the Parapan Am Games, the crowd was great—singing and chanting the whole time, I don't expect anything less!”

Four-time Paralympic table tennis player Tahl Leibovitz: “I have always enjoyed playing competitions in Brazil. The people are very nice, the food is excellent and the fans are very passionate and engaged with the matches. Brazil is such a great country.”

Paralympic cycling hopeful Jamie Whitmore: “I raced as a pro on a small island in Brazil back in the day and loved every minute of it. The Brazilians are incredible hosts who would give you the shirt off their back if you asked for it. I'm hoping to see some of the people I met so many years ago.”

Paralympic wheelchair rugby bronze medalist Joe Delagrave: “My wife and I have two young boys and we have watched the Rio animated movies dozens of times. I would be excited to visit Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana Beach in real life and not in animation!”

Six-time goalball Paralympian Jen Armbruster: “[I’m most looking forward to] the competition. There are four women’s goalball teams making their debut at the Rio Games so we won’t be playing the same old teams. The 2016 Paralympic Games will be a hard fought battle. This will also most likely be my last Paralympic Games as an athlete. Hopefully it’s lucky number seven for me.”

Paralympic soccer hopeful David Garza: “I expect Rio to be very spirited and festive. After watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I just knew it would be the time of my life if we qualify as a team and partake in such an extraordinary event in a city as beautiful as Rio. Playing in a country where most citizens live and breathe soccer everyday makes it that much more exciting and special.”

   Jessica Long poses with Tom, the Rio 2016 mascot to celebrate 

the one year countdown to the Paralympic Games.

17-time Paralympic swimming medalist Jessica Long: “My journey will be maintaining strong training and having a positive attitude. Rio is only one year away and it will come around fast, but I know I still have some of my hardest swim practice ahead of me. Staying focused on my ultimate goal for me is key this next year.”

Two-time track and field Paralympian Kerri Morgan: “Overall, I am excited about competing on the big stage with the world’s best competitors in my class. I am also excited that the 400-meters will be offered at the 2016 Games for T52 females.The longest distance offered in my class in my previous two Paralympic Games was the 200. I enjoy racing the longer distance races.”

Paralympic track and field silver medalist Richard Browne: “The moment the games are over, I’m going on an extreme adventure. I want to hang glide, base jump, zip line, and hike through the Amazon rain forest. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and I want to enjoy it thoroughly.”

Two-time Paralympic swimming medalist Rebecca Meyers: “I am very excited to travel to South America—I haven’t been on that continent yet!”

Three-time Paralympic wheelchair rugby medalist and Paralympic cycling hopeful Will Groulx: “I've transitioned from wheelchair rugby to handcycling, so that is the biggest change for me, leading up to the Paralympics in Rio. I also think that as the Paralympic movement continues to grow, the competition in all the sports gets stronger and stronger. That's exactly what we want as athletes, to be able to showcase our ability against the best competition in the world on the biggest stage.”

Three-time boccia Paralympian Austin Hanson: “This will be my second time competing in Rio as part of the U.S. team. Brazil is a beautiful country and is at the top of my list for countries I have traveled to.  I am looking most forward to sitting on the podium and hearing our national anthem played as I accept the gold medal that I have spent 20 years chasing.”

Paralympic cycling hopeful Samantha Heinrich: “Being able to compete in a Paralympic Games would be the highest honor as an athlete, while also helping me grow as an individual. Having a younger brother who just got drafted to a major league baseball team this summer also makes the Games more significant to me because it lets me be a role model for him — and others — that hard work can achieve great things.”

Three-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player Matt Scott: “Having been to three Paralympics and experiencing the amazing atmosphere get better with each Games, I'm anticipating Rio will continue the trend and create an experience even better than the Games before.  It will be filled with energy, intensity, and spirit. I picture Rio 2016 being the best one yet!”