The world’s fastest blind man and more: 10 US Paralympians to watch

Abandoned as an infant after losing her right leg in a chemical fire, Bassett spent seven years in a government-run orphanage in Nanjing, China, where she was given a makeshift prosthetic leg pieced together with tape and belts until she was adopted by an American couple from Michigan. Since nearly quitting track and field following a last-place finish in the 100m at the 2012 US national championships, she’s since captured world championship medals in both the 100m and the long jump.

The world’s fastest blind man will look to defend his Paralympic 100m title in the T11 category – where athletes are nearly or totally blind and require a guide to race – five years after his Rio coronation alongside former Olympic hopeful Jerome Avery. Diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at 15 months and blind in both eyes due to resulting glaucoma by the age of 13, he remains the only totally blind sprinter to have broken the 11-second mark.

A double amputee since she was 18 months old, Long became an overnight star at the 2004 Athens Games when she won three golds at the age of 12. She’s since piled up 23 career Paralympic medals, including 13 golds, making her the second most decorated US Paralympian ever behind fellow swimmer Trischa Zorn (55). And she’s showing no sign of slowing down, saying in a recent Reddit AMA that she hopes to compete until LA 2028. The 29-year-old Long, who was adopted from a Siberian orphanage aged 13 months, gained a huge new audience when her early life story was used in a one-minute Super Bowl commercial for Toyota this year.

Masters, who was born with defects believed to be from the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, spent the first seven years of her life in three different Ukraine orphanages before she was adopted by a Kentucky woman. Already a Paralympics medalist in rowing and cross-country skiing, Masters failed to reach the podium at the Rio Games, coming in fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. Following another switch back to winter sports – five combined medals in biathlom and cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang – the 32-year-old has sights firmly set on that elusive cycling medal and winning a Paralympic medal in a fourth different sport.

Born with spina bifida, McFadden spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage before being adopted by a Maryland family. She’s piled up 17 career Paralympic medals since making her debut as a sprinter at Athens 2004 – even a making the podium in Nordic skiing at the 2014 Winter Games – including medals in all six individual races from the 100m through the marathon at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. She will look to nab one of the few golds that’s eluded her in the marathon on 5 September.

The 17-year-old Long Island native will be making her Paralympic debut as Team USA’s ascendent star following a promising short course yards season where she broke no fewer than five American records, followed by a long course breakout in June at the US trials where she broke the S11 400m freestyle world record. She’s proven equally adept on social media as in the pool with more than two million TikTok followers on a feed that she uses to normalize visual impairment and educate about Para-sport.

After enlisting in the US Marine Corps in 1996, Sanchez was in the process of transferring to the Navy as a Navy Seal when he suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident in 2001. Now one of the top handcyclists in the world, the 45-year-old from Los Angeles is a six-time medalist across three Paralympic Games and a three-time world champion. The prospect of a hometown Paralympics in 2028 could see him competing well past his 50th birthday.

The 33-year-old from Long Island, who was partially paralyzed after surgery to remove a spinal tumor before his first birthday, was co-captain of a United States wheelchair basketball side that went unbeaten in Rio to claim its eighth overall Paralympic title and first since Seoul 1988. Serio saved his best for when it mattered most, notching 42 points, 23 rebounds and 30 assists in Team USA’s three knockout-stage games.

The Buffalo native and Charleston transplant, a quality engineer at Boeing who was paralyzed from the chest down after a 2010 motorcycle accident, was named the USOPC’s Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year for 2019 after winning the compound men’s open gold medal and his first world title in an upset of top-ranked Turkish archer Murat Turan in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. He’s among the favorites for gold on his Paralympics debut.

Wagner, who became paralyzed from the mid-chest down in a frisbee accident when he was 21, has won four medals in the quadriplegic singles category and four medals in quad doubles with longtime partner Nicholas Taylor – including three golds – at the last four Paralympic Games. A key figure in spurring the US Open to become the first grand slam tournament to add quad tennis, the 47-year-old from Washington state has since won six major titles in singles and 19 more in doubles.

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