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How to Become a Paralympic Athlete

Sep 15, 2016 3:26:51 PM / by Işıl Tanyeri

Former Paralympic Star, Dave Kiley, lists 5 key factors that makes an athlete – a Paralympic Athlete.

The 2016 Rio Paralympics are in full swing. As we enter the second half of the games in Rio de Janeiro, we, the spectators, are in complete awe and admiration of the athletes’ incredible talent in their sport as well as the humility they have all brought into the games.  Currently at the Rio Paralympic Games, there are over 4,000 Paralympic athletes, competing in 22 different sports.  The vibe is as good as it can get! Everyone is excited to be in Rio de Janeiro, and athletes seem to be having a great time as well.

Every athlete has a unique story here. They all come from different backgrounds and lives. Some are first-time Paralympians, the “rookies” if you will, and also the others that have been to the Games more than once, possibly 3-4 times, or the “veterans”. Despite their level of experience and the differences in their backgrounds, if there is one thing every athlete has in common in Rio de Janeiro right now, without an exception, is that every single one of them has worked tremendously hard to be there and to represent their countries at the highest level possible. They are proud, elite athletes.2016-Paralympic-games-logo-jpg.jpg

How does one become a Paralympian?

What does it take to become a high-level athlete to compete at the Paralympic Games?

We got curious about these questions and asked a former Paralympian, whom we know is currently watching the games very closely in his hometown in Charlotte, NC.  There is no one better than Dave Kiley, the 11 time Paralympian, 9 time Gold medalist in 3 different sports, who can tell us about athletes’ journey to the Paralympic Games.


“You will have to sacrifice who you are now in order to become who you want to be in the future.” - Dave Kiley

As an athlete and an aspiring Paralympian, you have to have the mindset of sacrifice and the will power to be able to sacrifice. You must believe in yourself and remind yourself that there are No Shortcuts nor Excuses to success. Your daily goal should be to be able to say, more than not, “no one has outworked me today!”


You must be willing to change environments if it is not supporting your goals. If you are not in a college program, you might need to move to a city where there are available resources for your training. Solo training does not work in most cases. Paralympian Athletes surround themselves with a lot of supporters. Internally, a Paralympian athlete must always have the highest expectations for himself or herself, even though the results might come later.


“Victory loves preparation.”  – Dave Kiley

As important it is as having the right mindset, to become a Paralympic athlete, is your training style. “It is not about how much you train, it’s about how smart you train”, says DK. How do you train like a Paralympian? “Develop a 12-month workout plan. Get help from coaches and other athletes to help put the plan together.  Always remember to keep a healthy balance in your workout: change it up to keep it fresh. Boredom can set in if one does not look forward to new drills or skills to hone in on. And finally, rest and give yourself recovery time.”


Health & Well Being

“Your body is the engine driving your success. Treat it well with high octane food you eat… or don’t eat.” - Dave Kiley  

Being a Paralympic athlete requires a disciplined lifestyle in which diet and skincare are as important as your training. Without either of them, training could turn into a total waste, as what goes in your body has a significant impact on your health and performance. Checking out college programs where they offer robust diet programs athletes is an important start. If you don’t have anyone cook for you, “become your own chef” says DK and teach yourself how to cook. That’s part of the independent living lifestyle an adaptive athlete needs to learn anyway.


In addition to diet, injury is almost inevitable as an athlete, but taking the necessary precautions early on to avoid long term injuries can save recovery time and hospital bills.  Start by understanding the most common risks, such as shoulders, joints, ligaments and tendons. If you are paraplegic, you have to be extra cautious about skin care as pressure sores are highly common amongst these athletes.

Leverage Your Network

“I must live and breathe success and the people I am with and train with must be of that same mindset.” - Dave Kiley

“Walk with wise people and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20

Those who you train with and surround yourself with those who are either equally or better talented than yourself. Always look for ways to be pushed harder and motivated by a group of equally passionate athletes and friends. If that means you might need to change cities, you might have to. There are many distractions that you need to be careful about. Work and school must be in perfect balance within your training schedule. You have to ensure you don’t sacrifice neither school nor training.

If you have a family on your own, it needs to be well balanced. Don’t forget, family support is critical and at times most important to your cause. Enable them to become a part of what you do.  If you are single, you should stay away from relationships for a while. They take time and you won’t have enough time for training and that cannot be an option.



Equip Yourself With the Best

“If I want to be one of the best I have to have nothing but the best equipment that is out there” - Dave Kiley

Good equipment is expensive. Invest in yourself and be a student of fundraising. If you are good at fundraising, you may be able to cover the biggest distraction, called Work. A four letter word to a Paralympian after gold.  You have to make yourself attractive to chair companies and other equipment potential sponsors. You are about to enter in an expensive path as a Paralympian. There are grants and scholarships out there and can be found and accessed through athletes who have already been successful.



The Challenged Athletes Foundation
is the biggest supporter of all time for equipment. Get yourself familiar with the chair companies. There are a number of sports chairs that are of high quality. DK’s choice is PER4MAX, for “their ability to make the most custom chair for the dollar is second to none”. Wheels have to be Spinergy - they have the best wheels and options for the Paralympians. “I found Tufo Tires to be the best for me. They are able to inflate to 220 lbs which is an unbelievable ride on a hard indoor court.

Dave Kiley’s message to Team USA competing at the Rio Paralympic Games:

“Good Luck. There is no substitute for hard work, but the reward is hearing your national anthem while wearing Red, White, and Blue on the podium.”

Do You Dream of Becoming a Paralympic Athlete?

Enroll in an adaptive sports program near you. Click below to check out the programs across the country. 

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Topics: adaptive sports, team usa, wheelchair basketball

Işıl Tanyeri

Written by Işıl Tanyeri

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