For Paralympic athletes, no goal is out of reach

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Ten years ago, April Holmes was boarding a train when her leg slipped and got caught between the platform and the moving train. As Holmes lay in her hospital bed recovering from a left leg amputation, her doctor told her about the Paralympics. Holmes, already a track and field college athlete, competed in the 2004 Athens Paralympics Games only three years later.

Today, Holmes is one of the most accomplished Paralympic athletes in track and field, winning gold in the 100 meter dash in 2008 in Beijing, and now holds three world records.

Just shortly after the 2012 London Olympics concluded, thousands of athletes like Holmes descended upon London to show the world the true meaning of “the heart of a champion.” From Aug. 29 through Sept. 9, these athletes competed in the Paralympics, the world’s largest sports competition for athletes with disabilities. The athletes competed in different disability categories for a wide range of sports, from sitting volleyball to sailing and wheelchair basketball.

However, while each athlete’s story seems more inspiring than the next, many Americans are still unaware of U.S. Paralympics. The Hartford, a founding partner of U.S. Paralympics, has been striving to raise public awareness of the Paralympics with its Achieve Without Limits Campaign.

“The Achieve Without Limits Campaign has helped me connect with people throughout the United States,” says Holmes. “This Campaign has opened people’s eyes to how athletes with disabilities are able to strive for goals with no boundaries. We’re not only raising awareness of U.S. Paralympics, but also showing everyone that they too can achieve what may seem impossible.”

Sitting volleyball and sailing competitor, Bradley Johnson, also works with The Hartford on the Campaign to help positively change public attitudes and perceptions about disability. Johnson lost both legs in an automobile accident on his way home from law school entrance exams. The Pompano Beach resident is now an attorney and won a bronze medal in sailing at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games.

“As a Paralympic athlete, I live a limitless life. It's a life of experiences meant for everyone,” Johnson says. “That’s really the message we’re trying to get across with the Achieve Without Limits Campaign.”

The Hartford’s Achieve Without Limits Campaign, which launched in March 2011, included local events with U.S. Paralympic athletes across the country and a contest that asked The Hartford's Facebook community to share their own personal achievement goals. The grand prize winner, Gregory Damerow, was awarded a grant to help him fulfill his dream of expanding a custom adaptive bicycle business, which he began in 2010. He started this small business with the goal of building handcycles and adaptive bikes for riders of all abilities, including the best Paralympic athletes in the world. Damerow will also be attending the London 2012 Paralympics with The Hartford to cheer on Team USA.

“The Paralympians embody the energy, confidence, and optimism at the very heart of achievement,” says Mike Concannon, Executive Vice President, Group Benefits, for The Hartford. “Achieve Without Limits celebrates the human spirit as these athletes continue the journey toward the London 2012 Paralympic Games."

The Hartford has sponsored U.S. Paralympic athletes for more than 16 years and became the Official Disability Insurance Sponsor of U.S. Paralympics in 2003.