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PRI's The World

Russians are turning out like never before for Paralympians in Sochi

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Make no mistake: Moscow is one of the world's great cities.

Red Square still inspires with its onion-domed churches and the sheer magnitude of the place. The city's 80-year-old metro system is still — somehow, even today — an unparalleled Soviet achievement in getting people from here to there.  

The city's theaters, museums, and concert halls count among the world's finest.  

And yet, says Igor Gakov, these attractions remain all but off limits to people with disabilities.

These ‘pearls’ of the city, the places people who come to Moscow want to see — they’re not accessible. You can get close, but you won’t go very far," he adds.

Gakov, a native Muscovite who has used a wheelchair for 16 years, says the key to getting around the city he loves is to be fearless and in really good shape — essentially, an everyday Paralympian.

“I’m pretty strong,” says Gakov, “so probably 70 percent of the city is accessible to me. But for others, it may be as little as 20 to 30 percent.”

It’s easy to see what he means. One only need look at Moscow's pedestrian underpasses to see how challenging the city can be for the disabled. The underpasses have ramps, technically, but they’re installed over steps descending at a harrowing 45 degrees.

“No invalids” in the USSR

When the Soviet Union hosted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980, Soviet officials refused to combine it with the Paralympic Games. At the time, a Soviet official famously insisted the USSR had "no invalids."  

Russia only ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2012 (something the US hasn’t done yet) — a long overdue move applauded by human rights groups.                                                                                                                                  

“We’ve been seeing a real push to improve the lives of people with disabilities, at least in Moscow,” says Denise Roza, the American director of the Russian disability rights group, Perspektiva. “We’re seeing it across the country, but in those cities that have more resources, we’re seeing it happen faster.”

Roza says while the situation is far from perfect, progress is evident: Public schools are beginning to accommodate children with disabilities, the disabled are increasingly entering the work force and public buildings are becoming accessible to all.  

In a sign of the changing times, the Russian state has lavished attention on these Paralympic Games — especially after Russia’s Paralympians did well in the medal count in the Vancouver and London games. The government has poured money into Paralympic sports programs and advertising campaigns featuring the athletes. Russia leads in this year’s Paralympics medal count as well.

Denise Roza, who was in Sochi for some of the Paralympic games, says the fans have been showing up.

“All these thousands of people in this stadium cheering for the sledge hockey team, and I kept thinking to myself — ‘they’re cheering for disabled people.’  Would they have done this five years ago? Probably not. Would they have gone to a sledge hockey match? No. If that sledge hockey team comes to their town in a year will they go? Yes, and they’ll tell their friends to go. So I think we’re going to see all kind of changes,” she adds.

But there is a risk that all these efforts will be eclipsed by Russia’s ongoing dispute with the west over Ukraine. The US and the UK political delegations boycotted these Paralympic Games in protest of Russian intervention in Crimea. The athletes are still competing, though.

At a recent press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin called these political gestures the "height of cynicism." But as the west and Russia face off over the fate of Ukraine, Russia’s disability rights activists are hoping some of the focus can stay on breaking barriers, rather than redrawing borders.

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Dallas Seavey Wins Iditarod Despite Lack Of Snow, High Winds

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Seavey, 27, was victorious in the iconic dog sled race for a second time, slipping under the famed burled arch in Nome, Alaska, the finish line for the 1,000-mile-long trail.

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The Takeaway

Inside the Paralympics: The Biathlon

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Paralympic Winter Games offer an opportunity for people with a wide range of disabilities to compete in adjusted versions of popular Olympic sports. As part of our week dedicated to America's Paralympians, The Takeaway speaks to Kevin Burton, a U.S. Paralympic Biathlete, who breaks down how he's able to navigate the kilometers of courses and shoot a rifle all while being visually impaired. He discusses what inspired him to become a competitive athlete.

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All Things Considered

After A Marathon Game, Two Hockey Teams Split One Trophy

Monday, March 10, 2014

A high school hockey game in Ohio ended in surprise after seven periods of overtime, when officials called it a tie. Chris Irwin, the athletic director of one of the teams, explains the decision.

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The Ragged Edge: A Runner Chasing Greatness Finds His Muse

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Boston Marathon is in sight and Eric Ashe is going for broke as he chases his dream of being an elite runner. The quest is about more than the discipline of running. It's about the art of racing.

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Morning Edition

Indiana To Mandate Concussion-Awareness Training

Monday, March 10, 2014

States are implementing laws aimed at preventing concussions in sports. Indiana may become the first state to mandate concussion-awareness training for high school and youth football coaches.

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The Takeaway

Inside the Paralympics: Downhill Skiing

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ralph Green, the first African-American man to make the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Team, says he's proudly representing both his country and his hometown of Brooklyn.

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PRI's The World

Skiers and snowboarders converge on the slopes of central Afghanistan

Monday, March 10, 2014

You may not expect a ski race in central Afghanistan. But Bamiyan Province has been holding March ski competitions since 2011, in an effort to promote skiing and tourism in the area.

This year's Afghan Ski Challenge mainly attracted skiers, snowboarders and aspiring skiers from various parts of Afghanistan, along with a handful of international competitors from as far away as the US, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, France and the UK.

Kawoon Khamoosh, with the BBC's Persian service, traveled to the remote slopes of the Koh-e-Baba mountain range to take part in the competition. He said the skiers and snowboarders enjoyed clear blue skies and amazing mountain views this year. And while there was plenty of enthusiasm, there were no lifts anywhere in sight.

So everybody hiked up the slopes to get to the top, skis and snowboards in tow. As if to prove that this isn't quite Olympic-level competition, many of the racers turned up in everyday clothing.

Alishah Farhang was the first place finisher in the main race. "I tried hard to achieve this," Farhang said as he stood on the modest winner's podium.  

Khamoosh said it was his first time skiing in Bamiyan — or anywhere, for that matter. He flew into Kabul because Bamiyan is quite remote. Add to that the danger of driving the roads leading from Kabul to Bamiyan, where insurgents and Taliban can stop cars, looking for anything that might bother them.

But the event, he added, felt safe — especially since the slopes were guarded by armed policemen.

Skiing remains a foreign concept for most Afghans. And it's wildly expensive. But the Afghan Ski Challenge is introducing more people to the sport. And Khamoosh said the event was a success, judging from the smiles on the faces of the skiers who made it to Bamiyan this year.

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Detroit's William Clay Ford Dies At Age 88

Sunday, March 09, 2014

William Clay Ford, a descendant of auto industry pioneer Henry Ford and owner of the Detroit Lions, has died at age 88. He bought the NFL team in 1963.

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15 Seconds To Nowhere: Goldsprints Bring Bikes To The Bar

Sunday, March 09, 2014

You'll find bike racers indoors this winter, racing in bars. At goldsprints racing events, the arena contains stationary bicycles, rowdy crowds and beer.

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The Rebound, The Intersection Of Self-Containing Half Spaces

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Did you miss the MIT conference on sports analytics? Slate's Mike Pesca tells NPR's Rachel Martin about the new tracking technology used in basketball, which puts rebounding in whole new light.

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All Things Considered

Catching Kayla: Running One Step Ahead Of Multiple Sclerosis

Saturday, March 08, 2014

When Kayla Montgomery runs, her legs go numb. But she's determined to not let MS slow her down. The teen track star from North Carolina is headed to nationals in New York next week.

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In A First, The Paralympics Get Political

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Paralympics are just getting started. Baseball fans are mourning the death of sports medicine pioneer Frank Jobe. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Tom Goldman about the week's sports news.

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All Things Considered

76ers' Epic Losing Streak Makes Some Reconsider NBA Draft

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Philadelphia 76ers have lost their last 15 games. As sportswriter Stefan Fatsis notes, the team's losing streak has raised a question: Are some NBA teams trying to lose to get a better draft pick?

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All Things Considered

Military Training Gives U.S. Paralympic Biathletes An Edge

Friday, March 07, 2014

The only American to medal in biathlon, Army veteran Andy Soule did it with just his arms. Soule and other service members are bringing their speed and precision to the grueling competition in Sochi.

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All Things Considered

Tommy John Remembers Dr. Jobe, 'One Of The Greatest Surgeons'

Friday, March 07, 2014

John was the first major league pitcher to have the arm-saving surgery that has since saved many careers. The surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe, died on Thursday. He was 88.

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Morning Edition

From War In The Desert To 'Murder Ball On Ice'

Friday, March 07, 2014

This year, the men's U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey team is packed with Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, and they've found an outlet in hitting, slamming and speeding across the ice as fast as they can.

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The Takeaway

History of the Paralympics and Superhuman Flow

Friday, March 07, 2014

The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games begin Friday in Sochi, with athletes representing more than 45 nations. Though it wasn't always this way, today the games are as elite in the sporting world as the traditional Olympics. A look at the history and culture of the Paralympics with Paralympic historian and author Dr. Ian Brittain. As these athletes compete over the next 10 days, the public will undoubtedly observe the highest levels of athleticism. What does it takes to have "flow" and physical abilities to their limits? Steven Kotler explains.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Life in the Minor Leagues

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

"Triple-A is the hardest job in baseball, because nobody wants to be there—not just players, but umpires, announcers, managers, everyone would rather be in the big leagues," baseball author John Feinstein.

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All Things Considered

14 Years After A Fall, Paralympian Carries Historic Gold Into Sochi

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Alpine skier Alana Nichols is the first female American athlete to win gold medals in both Summer and Winter Games. Nichols, who also plays wheelchair basketball, has been paralyzed since 2000.

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