From wheelchair curling to ice sledge hockey, Susan Byrne will see extraordinary athletes as she heads today to the IX Paralympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Byrne, the adaptive recreation programmer for Mesa Parks and Recreation, is one of five coaches and 10 student-athletes in the country chosen for the International Paralympic Academy at the games.
The select group will experience the games firsthand — meeting the U.S. paralympics team, watching competitions and attending ceremonies.
“It’s all very exciting, although it hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll be going,” Byrne said.
The Paralympic Games are an elite sports competition for athletes with disabilities.
Byrne was a spectator at the Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, in 2000 and Salt Lake City in 2002.
This time, she’s an ambassador on a trip funded by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Byrne, 29, spends her days in Mesa working with physically and mentally disabled athletes of all ages. They do everything from wheelchair rugby to cheerleading and gymnastics.
Cindy Wharton’s 11-yearold son, Zachary, works with Byrne in track and field, archery, shot put and wheelchair basketball.
Zachary, a fifth-grader at Hermosa Vista Elementary School, was born with spina bifida.
“She’s always really positive and encourages them to do their best,” the Mesa mother said. “She makes them think that they are able and they can accomplish anything.”
For information about the Paralympic Games visit www.usparalympics.org.