Five Disabled Athletes With Northwest Ties In Sochi For Paralympic Winter Games

By Tom Banse

American and European politicians are boycotting the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi to protest Russian moves in Ukraine. But athletes with physical disabilities from Idaho, Oregon and Washington plan to compete in the Olympic host city as scheduled starting this weekend.

Paralyzed veteran Sean Halsted trained for Sochi in Sun Valley last winter. Photo by Tom Banse.Five athletes with ties to the Northwest qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Team and flew to Sochi this week. They're competing in downhill and cross country skiing, biathlon and sled hockey. In addition, two sighted guides - one from Washington and one from Idaho - went to Sochi in tandem with the visually impaired skiers from here.

This will be the second Paralympic Winter Games for paralyzed U.S. Air Force veteran Sean Halsted. Halsted grew up able-bodied, skiing downhill at Mt. Spokane and North Idaho's Schweitzer Mountain. But now he competes in cross country and biathlon on what's called a sit-ski.

Sean Halsted: "I get the endorphin rush from the hills. I get the cardiovascular (workout)... All that stuff I got out of alpine, I get now in cross country skiing."

While Halsted served in the Air Force, he fell from a helicopter during a training exercise and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Photo: Paralyzed veteran Sean Halsted trained for Sochi in Sun Valley last winter. Photo by Tom Banse.

Competitors in Sochi say they're trying to block out the turmoil in nearby Ukraine. During a conference call Thursday, the chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee said he is pleased with the safety and security arrangements of the Russian host organization.

Here are your 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team members from the Northwest:

Legally blind skier Jake Adicoff (Sun Valley, Idaho) is entered in Nordic skiing and biathlon events with sighted guide Reid Pletcher, whose day job is ski coach in Sun Valley. Adicoff, 18, deferred his admission to Bowdoin College in Maine by a year so that he could train full time for these Paralympic Winter Games.

43-year-old Sean Halsted was raised in Eastern Washington and now lives just across the state line in Rathdrum, Idaho. He competes in Nordic skiing and biathlon.

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rico Roman is another of the many injured military veterans on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team. He competes in sled hockey, a fan favorite at the Winter Games. Roman was born and raised in Portland before he enlisted in the U.S. Army. During his third tour in Iraq in 2007, his left leg had to be amputated above the knee following a roadside bomb explosion.

Visually impaired alpine skier Mark Bathum (Mercer Island, Wash.) is the most senior member of the 2014 U.S. team at 55 years old. Bathum previously competed at the Vancouver Paralympic Games. Cade Yamamoto from Quincy, Wash. will be his guide.

Biathlete and Nordic skier Omar Bermejo is a resident athlete at the Wood River Ability Program (aka Paralympic Sport Club Ketchum) in Sun Valley, Idaho, although he lists Grand Rapids, Mich., as his hometown. Bermejo's dominant arm had to be amputated after a motorcycle accident. He is a Marine Corps veteran.

The Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games took place today (Friday) in the same stadium that hosted the Winter Olympic ceremonies in Sochi last month. The duration and scale of the Paralympic Games is significantly smaller than the preceding Olympic Games. Competition starts Saturday and lasts through March 16. You can watch many of the events on the NBCSN cable channel.

Sochi Paralympic Games schedule and results:

http://www.sochi2014.com/en/paralympic/schedule-and-results

Previous coverage:

N3: Sun Valley becomes Paralympic training center (Feb. 2013)
http://nwnewsnetwork.org/post/sun-valley-becomes-hub-healing-vets-through-sports

U.S. Paralympic Team:
http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Features/2014/February/21/2014-US-Paralympic-Team-named

Omar Bermejo's blog:
omarbermejo.blogspot.com

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