Four U Of I Paralympians Compete In Sochi
By Jeff Bossert
The University of Illinois is well known for producing standout athletes from its wheelchair men’s and women’s basketball, and track and field teams. And for the first time, some of those athletes are competing in the Winter Paralympics.
Some have been involved in the Paralympic Summer Games in London in 2012.
They include U of I graduate and current trainer Aaron Pike, part of the Nordic Skiing National Championships in January, student Travis Dodson, who competed in the same event in 2013 - and last year’s marathon ‘grand slam’ winner, recent U of I graduate Tatyana McFadden.
But this weekend marks the first time these athletes will be in the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The four with U of I connections include Travis Dodson, a retired Marine Corporal who was struck by a grenade while serving a tour in Iraq in 2007.
He lost his left leg at the hip, and the right one below the knee.
U of I Wheelchair Track Coach Adam Bleakney said Dodson always posessed the athletic skills.
"Travis is a very accomplished golfer from high school," he said. "A very talented, very gifted athlete. Golf is not an endurance based background, but he had the skill set, and he understood what it took in terms of training and focus to get to the top level. He had those skills to apply to moving toward the goals in the racing chair, and now with Nordic skiing."
McFadden, Pike, and Dodson are joined by graduate Mina Mojtahedi of Finland, who’s competing in curling.
In Saturday's competition, Dodson finished 20th in the 7.5 kilometer sitting biathlon, right behind Pike, who was 19th. Russia, Ukraine, and Japan medaled in that event.
On Sunday, Pike will be the men's 15 kilometer sitting cross-country skiing, and McFadden is part of the women's 12 kilometer event.