Rio Welcomes The World To The Opening Ceremony Of The 2016 Paralympic Games

By Darci Miller | Sept. 07, 2016, 9:06 p.m. (ET)
Allison Jones leads the U.S. delegation into the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at Maracana Stadium on Sept. 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The MegaRamp loomed at one end of Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, large and intimidating. Extreme wheelchair athlete Aaron Wheelz sped down it, soaring into the air as fireworks hit the sky. While a flying wheelchair may be a surprising image, it is fittingly what officially marked the start of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.

The ceremony served as a celebration of humanity and our ability to transcend our limits, to do more with less. It invited the audience to experience blindness and life in a wheelchair. It challenged the idea of disability and posed the question of, to a certain measure, aren’t we all disabled? And able?

The vivacity of Brazilian culture was on full display, with the prominence of a samba circle and a segment devoted to the ritual of spending a day at the beach. All segments featured performers with physical disabilities, including U.S. Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy, who won bronze at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

It was in this festive spirit that Team USA’s 289 athletes made their debut, led by eight-time Paralympic medalist Allison Jones. Each delegation, including independent Paralympic athletes, marched out with a puzzle piece, one side representing the country and the other with images of participating Paralympic athletes. As nations entered the stadium and the 1,160 puzzle pieces were assembled, they took the shape of a human heart.

With a heart beating in the center of the stadium, one was reminded of the core concept of the ceremony: “The heart knows no limits. Everybody has a heart.”

In front of a roaring crowd, President of the Organizing Committee for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Carlos Arthur Nuzman and International Paralympic Committee President Sir Philip Craven delivered speeches before acting President of the Republic of Brazil Michel Temer declared the Games open.

The ceremony concluded with the lighting of the Paralympic cauldron by Brazilian Paralympic swimmer Clodoaldo Silva. A wheelchair user, Silva faced a flight of stairs between himself and the cauldron. The stairs transformed into ramps, allowing Silva to light the flame and prove – in a fitting message preceding 11 days of competition – that anything is possible.

Visit for more information on Team USA at the Paralympic Games, including athlete bios, schedule and live streaming. Follow the U.S. Paralympic team on social media on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.