Skip to main content

Athletes to Watch: 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

The Tokyo Paralympics are officially off and running! As the competition heats up, get to know some of the incredible athletes representing Team USA at this year’s Games.

David Brown, Track & Field

Missouri native David Brown is known as the “fastest blind man alive.” The three-time Paralympian holds the record for the 100m event in the T11 classification for athletes that are completely blind with a time of 10.92. He broke the previous record in 2014 and became the first totally blind athlete to run under 11 seconds.

Brown was first inspired to participate in the Paralympics after he won an essay contest that granted him entry to the 2008 Beijing Games. He and his sighted guide, Jerome Avery, qualified for the 2012 London Paralympic Games and have won a total of five medals together - two gold and three silver. "Team BrAvery" is the defending 100m Paralympic champion, but due to injury, Avery won't be running alongside Brown in Tokyo. Moray Steward will instead join Brown as his guide on the track this year.

 

Jessica Long, Swimming

Born in Siberia, Jessica Long was adopted by American parents when she was just 13 months old. She was born with fibular hemimelia, a condition that prevents the lower limbs from developing. She had both legs amputated below the knee when she was 18 months old to learn how to walk with prosthetic legs. Long was interested in many sports growing up, including gymnastics, biking, and cheerleading but was drawn to swimming after spending hours in her grandparents’ pool pretending to be a mermaid!

Long made her Paralympic debut in Athens at just 12 years old, making her the youngest athlete to compete at the 2004 Paralympics. Since then, she has become the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian of all time, winning a total of 23 medals, 13 of them gold. She is looking to add to her collection at her fifth Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Hunter Woodhall, Track & Field

Hunter Woodhall was born with fibular hemimelia and both of his lower legs were amputated when he was just 11 months old. Growing up in Utah, Woodhall participated in many different sports, including soccer, baseball, and basketball, but he excelled on the track. During his time at Syracuse High School, Woodhall won five state titles and broke both the 400m and 4x400m state records. His successes earned him a scholarship to the University of Arkansas, making him the first double amputee to earn a Division I scholarship in track and field.

Woodhall is a two-time Paralympian and Paralympic medalist. He won silver in the 200m and bronze in the 400m at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. He will once again race for a spot on the podium in Tokyo.

Tatyana McFadden, Track & Field

Five-time Paralympian Tatyana McFadden was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and spent her first six years of life in a Russian orphanage. She was born with a condition called spina bifida that left her paralyzed below the waist. She learned how to walk on her hands because she didn’t have access to a wheelchair. McFadden was eventually adopted by her mom, Deborah, and moved to the United States, where she played many sports to help the transition to her new home. Tatyana soon discovered a love for track and field and soon qualified for the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

McFadden has since collected an incredible list of achievements in her sport and beyond. In 2013, she became the first athlete ever to complete the “grand slam” of marathons, winning the wheelchair divisions in London, Boston, Chicago, and New York. She repeated the feat in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In 2014, McFadden also became a two-sport Paralympian after competing in Nordic skiing at the Sochi Games. McFadden is looking to add to her 17 total Paralympic medals in Tokyo.

Chuck Aoki, Rugby

During Chuck Aoki’s first-ever wheelchair rugby game, an opponent collided with him so hard that Aoki was sent flying into the bleachers, landing on his head. That moment was when Aoki decided that rugby was the sport for him. Aoki grew up playing wheelchair basketball after a rare genetic disorder that inhibits feeling below the knees and elbows. After watching the documentary “Murderball,” Aoki found a passion for the intensity of quadriplegic rugby.

Since then, Aoki has become one of the premier wheelchair rugby players in the world. He led Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympics, and silver at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. He hopes to finally secure the gold in Tokyo! Aoki was also named as a flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony, where he will have the honor of representing the United States alongside Melissa Stockwell.

Melissa Stockwell, Triathlon

Melissa Stockwell has a lot of experience representing the United States. After college, Stockwell was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army’s transportation corps, and she was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Just a month after arriving, her vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, and she became the first woman soldier to lose a limb in active combat. Stockwell was ultimately honored with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for her service.

Upon learning about the Paralympics, Stockwell was inspired to represent her country once again. She qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games in swimming, but then switched her focus to triathlon because she enjoyed the variety that came with the event. In 2016, Stockwell earned a spot on the inaugural U.S. Paratriathlon team and won a bronze medal.

Not only will she race for gold in Tokyo,Stockwell is also representing her country as a flag bearer for Team USA at the Opening Ceremony alongside Chuck Aoki.

 

Oksana Masters, Cycling

Oksana Masters is no stranger to the Paralympic Games. She has competed in two Summer Games and two Winter Games and collected a total of eight medals. Masters was born in Ukraine with birth defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and she ultimately had both of her legs amputated. She was adopted at the age of seven and began her long sporting career in the United States. 

Masters made her first appearance in the Paralympics as a rower, winning bronze as part of a mixed doubles team in London in 2012. She took up nordic skiing as well, qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Games where she took home a silver and bronze medal. After sustaining a back injury in Sochi, Masters started cycling to aid in her recovery. She qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Cycling team in 2016, competing at the Rio Paralympics where she finished just shy of the podium in fourth place. In Tokyo, Masters looks to secure her place on the podium.

Mckenzie Coan, Swimming

McKenzie Coan’s swimming career began with aquatic therapy in 2001 to aid with her brittle bone disease diagnosis. After seeing how much fun her brothers had swimming on the local team, McKenzie decided to join as well, and her swim career began. Coan made her Paralympic debut at 2012 London Games but made really made her mark at the 2016 Rio Games — she took home three gold medals and one silver. Mckenzie is looking forward to another successful medal run in her third Paralympics in Tokyo.

 

Brad Snyder, Triathlon

Florida native Brad Snyder grew up in the water and quickly became a swimming standout at his high school and the U.S. Naval Academy. Snyder then served in the U.S. Navy. and was then deployed to Afghanistan. On Sept. 7, 2011, he was blinded after stepping on an improvised explosive device.

One year later, Snyder won gold at the 2012 London Paralympics. He left London with three medals and added four more to his collection at the 2016 Rio Games. Since transitioning to Paratriathlon in 2018, Snyder is looking to add to his medal total in his debut Paratriathlon event in Tokyo.

Anastasia Pagonis, Swimming

Anastasia Pagonis played soccer before she began to lose her vision at the age of 11 due to Stargardt disease, which causes vision loss in early childhood. Her doctor suggested that she try swimming instead as a “low contact” sport, in which she developed a passion.  At the age of 14, Pagonis lost her sight completely and struggled to continue in the sport, giving it up altogether.

She returned to the pool some time later wanting to feel that freeing experience swimming gave her once again. After some initial frustration, Pagonis joined Islanders Aquatics on Long Island, N.Y., where she met Coach Marc Danin, who she credits as her swimming ‘lifesaver.’ The 17-year-old has been training for the Paralympics with her guide dog, Radar, and she will be making her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo Games.


Don’t miss a single moment of these amazing athletes completing at the Tokyo Paralympics! Find out when and how to watch at NBCOlympics.com