Billmeier '99 speaks about disabled athletes

by Andrea Haffty | 11/9/98 6:00am

Sarah Billmeier '99, a three-time medal recipient in the Paraolympics as a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, spoke about her experience as a disabled athlete at Friday's Community dinner, "Disabled Athletes and Extreme Sports Challenges."

At age five, Billmeier lost her leg below the knee, and at age eight she began skiing. When faced with a serious accident or a disease, she said, one always wonders what the quality of one's life will be.

Skiing, she said, allowed her to regain what she lost emotionally with the disability. "I love it, I have fun, I feel like I get the most out of every second of life," she said.

Billmeier commented on the achievements of others with her disability, one who competed in the Ironman competition and one who scaled the face of Everest.

She said that the disabled athletic community has always been searching for equality, in terms of viewership, television coverage and funding.

She said most disabled athletes have "a love/hate relationship" with being called inspirational. They would rather the fans perceive their sport as "competitive and exciting" of its own accord, she said. As Billmeier puts it, she wants to be seen as "an athlete first and disabled second."

The dinner was part of a day-long program on disabled athletes sponsored by the Programming Board and the International Programs Advisory Group.

Seated at each of the tables was an affiliate of the disabled athletic community, among them two members of the Vietnam Challenge Ride. Last spring, Vietnamese and American veterans of the Vietnam War completed a 1,200 mile bicycle ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City as a part of the ongoing effort to restore relations between the United States and Vietnam.

Following the dinner, participants viewed "Vietnam Long Time Coming," a documentary film on the Vietnam Challenge ride.

The same day, in a speech related to the program, John McAuliff, the executive director of U.S.-Indochina Reconciliation Project, spoke on the actions of individuals in the effort to improve relations between the United States and Indochina.