These Paralympians are Ready to Make History


The Paralympics 2021 schedule has officially commenced, which means one thing: the stream of epic women in sports moments we’ve seen this summer continues. 

In case you missed it, women dominated the competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics earlier this summer. On Team U.S.A., the five most mentioned athletes on social media were women—a buzz they backed up by bringing home 58% of the medals. The Paralympics—short for “parallel Olympics”—promises to be just as groundbreaking, as athletes with different types of physical abilities compete in 22 sports. 

If the Olympics is heralded for it’s ability to bring the world together for moments of triumph, conversations on mental health, and a sense of unified camaraderie, the Paralympics has the power to be even more valuable. Yes, it’s about made-to-go-viral athletic achievements. But it’s also about upending stereotypes about disability and giving us all role models who refuse to be tokenized.  

Yet again, women athletes are leading the way, using their platforms to start conversations—and their athletic prowess to bring home some hardware. There’s Oksana Masters, who will be going for her ninth Paralympic medal in her fourth sport; Tatyana McFadden, a six-time Paralympic cyclist who will be going for her 18th medal; and Melissa Stockwell, an Army veteran and mom of two going for gold in the para-triathalon event. 

Catch all the action August 24-September 5 (you can get the full Paralympics 2021 schedule here) and don’t miss these women. 

Tatyana McFadden

McFadden is one of the most recognized para-athletes in the world. And with extremely good reason—the wheelchair racer has won 17 medals over six Paralympic Games, and her advocacy for athletes with disabilities led to the passage of an Obama-era federal law that requires high schools to allow students with disabilities to compete in sports. This summer, she’ll be looking to bring home her first gold in the marathon event. 

Melissa Stockwell

Stockwell’s Paralympic story began in 2004 in Iraq when she became the first U.S. woman to lose a limb in active combat. Four years later, she was competing as a Paralympic swimmer in Beijing and even set a new American record. In Tokyo, she’ll be competing to bring home her second medal in the para-triathalon event. 

Oksana Masters

One Paralympic sport isn’t enough for Oksana Masters. The double amputee has already brought home medals in rowing, biathlon and cross country skiing. In Tokyo, just weeks after a surgery that threatened her athletic future, she plans to add a medal in paracycling to her collection. (Coincidentally, only one other Paralympian who has medaled in three sports is Aaron Pike—Masters’ boyfriend.)

Shoko Ota

For the first time ever, the Paralympic Games will include a full-contact sport: para-taekwondo. Japan’s Shoko Ota is the athlete to watch—she’s already won three winter Paralympic medals and had retired before the inclusion of taekwondo was announced. But on her road to Tokyo, she dethroned the reigning world champion. 

Jessica Long

Swimmer Jessica Long competed at her first Paralympic Games when she was just 12 and is a 13-time Paralympic champion. 

Nicky Nieves

Nieves, a middle blocker, is heading to Tokyo with her team as the defending champions in sitting volleyball. She credits their strong support for each other for their success: “Not only do we lift each other up, but we find ways to try and help fill each other emotionally when they need it the most,” she wrote

Zakia Khudadadi

Zakia Khudadadi was set to be the first woman to represent Afghanistan in the Paralympics. After the Taliban takeover, she shared an emotional video. “My intention is to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Please hold my hand and help me,” she said, per the New York Times, in the video shared and translated  by Reuters. “Please, I request you all—especially all the women from around the globe and the female institutions and the United Nations to not let the rights of a female citizen of Afghanistan in the Paralympic movement to be taken away so easily.” 

Though the Afghani athletes will not be competing, the International Paralympic Committee flew Afghanistan’s flag during the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo as a sign of solidarity. Following the video, Khudadadi and several other female Athletes in Afghanistan were successfully evacuated to Australia, the New York Times reports. 


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