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Belpre couple recalls time in Rio at 2016 Paralympic Games

Mark and Nancy Miller of Belpre meet USA kayaker Kelly Allen after her race during the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in September. Allen holds a Keating “pirate” shirt, named after the Millers’ dog Keating who is an amputee. (Photo Provided)

BELPRE — Athletes from all over the world faced off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Paralympic Games, and volunteers from the Mid-Ohio Valley were there to help.

A goal set in 2012 came to fruition four years later when Mark and Nancy Miller of Miller Prosthetics & Orthotics in Belpre volunteered in the 2016 Paralympics. As a certified licensed prosthetist Mark Miller offered his services in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta.

This time, against all the risks and warnings, they both made the trip to Rio. The volunteer process involved an online application, Skype interviews and online training courses.

Once a person is selected as a volunteer, the company “Rio 2016” then assigns each volunteer a role and venue, and assigns a work schedule that can be accepted or rejected by the applicant. Volunteers must be willing to serve for 10 days.

Nancy Miller headed to Rio solo since she accepted her month-long schedule, which included time before and after the games. The Paralympic Games ran from Sept. 7-18 and followed the regular Olympic games.

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were held at the same Maracana Stadium as the Olympics, and the event venues and Paralympic Village were held at the same places the Olympics occurred, Nancy said. Olympic Park, Athletes Village and other stadiums were built for the Olympic Games.

New highways, subway lines and a new BRT bus system were developed for the games but will also benefit the people of Rio, Nancy said.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is responsible for the Paralympic Games. They work together with the National Paralympic Committees (NPC) from each country. The International Federation of Sport (IF) has a leader in charge of each sport.

Together the leaders of these groups make up the “Paralympic Family.”

Nancy and Mark both worked in the International Relations Department and the Paralympic family members were their clients.  Nancy worked at the Paralympic Help Desk in the lobby of the Windsor Barra Hotel, in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood of Rio.  Mark worked at the Tennis Venue at Olympic Park, which was also in Barra da Tijuca, but required an hour travel time between the BRT bus system and the long walk into the park.

Nancy received her assignment first, so she found an apartment next door to her work location, which happened to be across the street from the Barra da Tijuca beach.

“The location was fabulous. The ocean and the beaches are scattered with breathtakingly beautiful granite,” Nancy said.

“Surprisingly the beaches were very clean and the area was probably the safest in Rio. Rio is a very active and health-conscious community. In the morning, people exercise all over the beach, along with jogging on the beach or boardwalk; you’ll find biking, surfing, personal trainers, beach volleyball games and lessons, and even foot volley – which is a combination of soccer and volleyball,” Nancy said.

There are exercise stations near each “posto,” which are numbered lifeguard stands. The Millers were able to fit in beach volleyball lessons three days a week before work. It was a double lesson since all instructions were in Portuguese, she said.

Mark was able to watch wheelchair tennis during some of his volunteer time, and got to know David Wagner, from team USA.  Nancy worked behind the scenes with the organizers.  Although she didn’t get to work at a venue, she was given tickets to several events, including the Opening and Closing Ceremony.

The seats were some of the best in the house, and included access to the Paralympic Family Lounge, Nancy said. The lounge was a great place to get to know some of the leaders from each country, and learn about how the organization of the games works, she said.

The Millers were able to set their schedules and attend several events on their time off.  They watched Wheelchair Rugby, Women’s Triathlon, Cycling, Wheelchair Tennis, and Canoe Sprints (which were actually racing kayaks). The track and field events were across town, almost two hours away.

The athletes were amazing, Nancy said. “The wheelchair rugby had serious bumper action, even overturned chairs and the wheelchair tennis players would easily beat me.”

The United States women swept the triathlon, with Allysa Seely taking Gold, Hailey Danisewicz taking Silver and Melissa Stockwell with Bronze in the PT4 category, and Grace Norman crossing the finish line first, taking the gold in the PT2 category.

The athletes are categorized according to their level of ability. The wins were extra rewarding in this inaugural year — 2016 was the first year the triathlon was an official sport in the Paralympics, Nancy said.  The Millers also witnessed the inaugural canoe event and met Kelly Allen, the USA female athlete after the race.

When asked what the best part of the trip was, Nancy replied, “By far the best part of Rio and this Paralympic adventure was the welcoming nature of the Cariocas and all of the Brazilian people.  (Cariocas are the people who are originally from Rio.)  In all of the places we have been, we have never met more friends and felt more welcomed than we did in Brazil.”

Along with Brazilians, they made new friends from all over the world, the Millers said.

Trading pins is a key activity among people involved with the Paralympic Games, Nancy said. The Millers returned home with a new collection of pins from around the world and two athletic shirts from Ireland and Portugal, and gave out “Keating” pins and shirts featuring their amputee “pirate” dog.

The Millers visited “Christ the Redeemer” statue and Sugarloaf Mountain, where they took a cable car to both mountain tops.

The last week Nancy was in Rio, she shopped for gifts for members of the Prosthetic Users Group. This group of friends with limb loss meets the fourth Thursday of the month at Shoney’s in Parkersburg at 6:30 p.m.

At the group’s Oct. 27 meeting, the Millers will have a presentation on the Paralympics and raffle prizes from Rio. Anyone with limb loss can attend the meeting.

To read more about their Paralympic adventures and see photos go to Millerpo.com – click on the “Rio” link on the top right.

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