By Brian Rank

Photo by Ken King
Photo by Ken King

Thousands of athletes, volunteers, paralympic officials and media representatives from 45 countries have gathered in Sochi, Russia for the winter paralympic games that begin Friday, March 7. The games are poised to be the largest in history and are the first in Russia.

The 2014 games will feature 575 athletes competing for 72 medals in five adaptive sports categories – alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling. Notable is the addition of snowboarding, with two medal events under the alpine skiing category.

The USA will be represented by a delegation of 80 athletes comprised of 22 women and 58 men, its largest team ever. Team USA enters the games fourth in total medals won in winter Paralympic events with 96 golds, 97 silvers and 68 bronze. Norway leads with a total of 315 medals, followed by Germany and Austria.

Included on the US team are 19 military veterans of which 10 are alumni of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit organization that provides services and support to veterans and service members who incurred a physical or mental injury, illness, or wound, co-incident to their military service on or after September 11, 2001. WWP helps their alumni find jobs and fulfilling life activities, such as adaptive sports. Alumni competing in the winter paralympics are:

Tyler Burdick (Navy) – Snowboarding

Kevin Burton (Navy) – Biathlon

Heath Calhoun (Army) – Skiing

Dan Cnossen (Navy) – Cross Country

Travis Dodson (Marine) – Skiing

Joel Hunt (Army) – Skiing

Jon Lujan (Marine) – Skiing

Rico Roman (Army) – Sled Hockey

Andy Soule (Army) -Skiing

Josh Sweeney (Marine) – Sled Hockey

WWP presented a $10,000 sponsorship to the Wheelchair Sports Federation’s media team that will be covering the paralympic games. The all-volunteer media team will showcase the athleticism of the US disabled athletes and help others in their own personal recovery and rehabilitation. The team’s perspective is unique  – in addition to being passionate advocates and story-tellers, it include former Paralympians, wheelchair users and amputees.

The team will post stories and photos online throughout the games. All media will be free for use by news outlets.

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