She dove into the sand, grappling with the ground and turning her body, arcing her elbows for strikes to the head of the man next to her.
Sasha Konstantinova ripped off her white life vest, swinging it casually in the air. This seemed like it would work, but her legs wouldn’t cooperate. And so she began to selliered on, happy to just hit him as hard as she could.
The Russian paralympian was representing her country in Brazil. She and her teammates were training for the Paralympic Games that begin in less than two weeks.
Konstantinova, 27, was born without a right arm. She spends most of her days living with her mother in Russia and competes in the paralympic sport of archery.
It was one of the unconventional sports that will be contested here in Rio de Janeiro, where many of the 1,600 athletes will compete for gold in cerebral palsy, cancer, glaucoma, strokes, neurological injuries, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, muscular dystrophy-related spasticity, and high blood pressure. There are participants from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, North America, and Oceania. The 13,500 total in Rio represent countries that include Venezuela, Tajikistan, Belize, Cuba, and Italy.
On the last day of September, the Rio Paralympic Games began.
They’ll conclude on September 11, an event that’s scheduled to host the world’s 100,000 athletes. It’s the best of the best in the Paralympic movement, and for much of the past 50 years, the Paralympics have been the Paralympics.
Last week, a talented five-member group from China’s Changsha Jinhangmao Hawks won gold in the T8 Powerlifting Triathlon.
There were other athletes to watch as they ran and jumped and bobbed and wiggled along the 4.6-mile course. They were athletes from Brazil, Canada, Australia, Germany, Australia, Israel, China, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, Spain, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Ukraine, and Poland. They were all competing for gold.
And some of them were shocked and elated to win.
For Brazil’s Henrique Torres, winning his competition was the greatest moment of his life.
And it didn’t take long for Christopher Watts, a 44-year-old paraplegic, to find his passion.
What’s most surprising about these athletes is the ways they have transformed themselves for competitive sport.
Konstantinova, for example, has paid close attention to her nutrition and has gained muscle mass with a daily exercise regimen that includes weights, resistance bands, ball exercises, bicep curls, and ab training.
But among the many adventurous athletes, there are also those who lack a physical impairment.
A Spanish wheelchair basketball team featuring Faye Lopez Aguirre, Carlos Lopez Rojas, Laura Aviles, and Cristina Pilia tried its first tournament on December 31. They won their opening match.
They took second place in their second match.
Last week they took third place in their second match.
On Thursday, they fell to France in the semifinals.
In the match after, they lost to Russia.
It was then that their coach, Norma Rodriguez Nold, wrote a long post for ESPN Argentina in which she was determined to see them take home a bronze medal.
“They kept thinking, at least we came third, and this could be it,” she wrote. “But this is the best thing that could happen to them, as they took a huge risk: the chance to drop that medal, to forget their true selves and become a small exception in the lives of others.”
The medal they lost went to her team, the Italian team that had fallen to them in the semifinals.