A primer to the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games

AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

Brazil's Terezinha Guilhermina wins the 100-meter T11 final at the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Just in case you didn't know, the Paralympic Games also take place this summer in Rio de Janeiro.

Most people are either unfamiliar with the Paralympics, or they confuse it with the Special Olympics. This isn't entirely their fault, as there's been limited broadcasting of the Games in past years. But the truth of the matter is, few people have actually watched the Paralympics -- and fewer understand what it is.

The Games, which begin Wednesday, feature all the high intensity competition that the Olympics bring and more.

So before you flip past the Paralympics as you look for something to watch over the next two weeks, let us educate you on on a few facts that will definitely halt your channel-changing finger.

It has all of the Olympic wonderfulness


The Paralympics do not just sound like "Olympics," they are their own Olympics.

The Games are held in conjunction with the Olympic Games every four years. For every Summer and Winter Games, there is also a Paralympics held in that country. There was a Sochi 2014 Paralympics, a London 2012 Paralympics, a Vancouver 2010 Paralympics and so on. Every Paralympics is held in the weeks following the Olympic Games.

Paralympians compete in the same venues as the Olympians. They also have their own opening and closing ceremonies filled with performances, guest appearances (Queen Elizabeth II made an appearance during the London 2012 Games) and countless extraordinary sights.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Fireworks light up Olympic Stadium as the Paralympic Cauldron burns during the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics.

Most importantly, this year's Games will have television coverage that is similar to the Olympic television coverage, a first for the Paralympics. NBC will show 66 hours of the Games, a 60.5-hour increase over the coverage that was given to the London 2012 Paralympics. This is one of the first times American sports fans will be able to tune into lengthy coverage of the Games.

This year is also the first year the Paralympics will feature paracanoe and paratriathlon and will be the first time a Latin American or South American city has hosted the Games.

It's not the Special Olympics

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Among other differences, the Special Olympics (medals seen above) is a voluntary competition while athletes have to qualify to participate in the Paralympics.


The Paralympics and the Special Olympics are not the same. They are two separate competitions with two separate qualification processes. The Special Olympics has voluntary participation. Anyone above the age of 8 years old with an intellectual disability can compete in the Special Olympics, regardless of whether that person also has other mental or physical disabilities.

In contrast, the Paralympics is only for people who have one of the 10 eligible impairments that include visual impairment, amputations and cerebral palsy. To prevent competition where the least impaired athlete always wins, athletes are separated into classes based on the limitations of their impairment.

Paralympians spend years training and competing in qualifying competitions to make it to the Paralympics.

You can binge-watch past Games online


Up until 2013, when NBC acquired rights to broadcast the Games, one of the only ways to watch the Paralympics in the United States was online. People will be able to watch the Rio Games on the NBC networks, but past Games are still available online.

Fans can watch decades of Paralympics coverage all in one place on YouTube.

You will be inspired


This summer's Paralympics will feature more than 4,300 athletes competing in 22 sports, making this Games the largest to date.

Among the Paralympians is U.S. Army Sgt. and paraswimmer Elizabeth Marks, who recently accepted the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2016 ESPY Awards. Marks suffered debilitating hip injuries in Iraq in 2010 that left her with no feeling in her left leg. She will be competing in her first Paralympics this summer.

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Paraswimmer Elizabeth Marks won a gold medal at the Invictus Games earlier this year.

Paratriathlete Allysa Seely, who was featured in the 2016 Body Issue, will compete in the first-ever paratriathalon. Seely had her leg amputated after being diagnosed with Chiari II malformation, basilar invagination and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Britain's Paralympians introduced themselves to the world by posting a music video online. Their three-minute video features various Paralympics showing off their talents and is appropriately titled "We're the Superhumans."

This is just a portion of the talent and stories of triumph that will be showcased at this year's Games. If there is no other reason to watch, the athletes' stories are reason enough.

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