Updated Aug 24, 2021 - Sports

The U.S. Paralympic athletes to watch

Data: Team USA; Cartogram: Connor Rothschild/Axios

The Paralympic Games officially kicked off in Tokyo on Tuesday after a yearlong delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The big picture: The roster of more than 230 U.S. athletes features 129 returning Paralympians, including four six-time Paralympians.

The athletes to watch:
Joe Berenyi, cycling
Silver medalist Joe Berenyi of the United States celebrates on the podium at the medal ceremony for Men's 3km Pursuit C3 Final on day 2 of the Rio 2016
Joe Berenyi celebrates at the medal ceremony for the men's 3km Pursuit C3 Final at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Joe Berenyi enters Tokyo with four Paralympic medals in cyling, including one gold, two silvers and one bronze.

  • Berenyi, 52, made his Paralympic debut in London in 2012, when he won three medals, including a gold.
  • He started cycling in the early 1990s and was a member of an Illinois-based cycling club before a construction accident in 1994 in which he lost his right arm and injured his kneecap.
  • Since his accident, Berenyi has competed in four world championships in road racing and seven world championships in track cycling.
David Brown, track and field
 Para track & field athlete David Brown and guide Jerome Avery pose for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on November 19, 2019
Para track & field athlete David Brown and guide Jerome Avery pose for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Paralympic track athlete David Brown is the fastest, totally blind athlete in the world. Brown, 28, enters Tokyo with one gold medal in the 100 meters from the Rio Paralympics.

  • The native Missourian was the first totally blind athlete to run the 100m under 11 seconds.
  • Brown will run the 100m and 200m in Tokyo alongside his guide Jerome Avery.
Jessica Long, swimming
Jessica Long of United States competes in women's 100 m Breaststroke SB7 during day 2 of the Para Swimming World Championship Mexico City
Jessica Long competes in the women's 100m breaststroke during the Para Swimming World Championship in Mexico City in 2017. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Swimmer Jessica Long has won 23 Paralympic medals, including 13 golds, making her the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympic swimmer ever.

  • Long, 29, was born in Siberia, Russia, with a rare condition called fibular hemimelia, meaning she didn’t have most of the bones in her feet. When she was 13 months old, she was adopted and moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where her legs were amputated.
  • She started swimming at a young age, noting the water was the place she “felt really free and capable,” according to Olympics.com. Long made her Paralympic debut at 12 years old during the 2008 Athens Games, where she won three gold medals.
Allysa Seely, paratriathlon
Allysa Seely of the United States celebrate winning the gold and silver respectively in the Triathlon Women's T2 at Forte de Copacabana on day 4 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Allysa Seely celebrates winning the gold and silver in the triathlon women's T2 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Allysa Seely made history at the 2016 Paralympics, winning the first gold medal in paratriathlon’s debut race at the Games.

  • Seely, 32, was a member of the Arizona State University club triathlon team before being diagnosed with Chiari II Malformation, basilar invagination and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects her brain, spine and connective tissues.
Luis Puertas, track and field
United States Paralympic Athlete Luis Puertas trains during a practice session ahead of the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials at Breck High School on June 16, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Paralympic track athlete Luis Puertas trains during a practice session ahead of the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials on June 16 in Minneapolis. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Luis Puertas lost both his legs serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, he thought he would never get the chance to don a U.S. uniform and represent his country again, per Amplitude magazine. Just a few years later, the 34-year-old is headed to his first Paralympic Games.

  • "Now I’m putting on a different type of uniform, but [I'm] still able to represent my country," he said.
  • He set the third-best 200m time in 2021 at the U.S. National Trials in June.
Melissa Stockwell, paratriathlon
Paralympian and former U.S. Army Officer Melissa Stockwell runs during a training session on May 27, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Paralympian Melissa Stockwell runs during a training session on May 27, 2020, in Colorado Springs. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Melissa Stockwell, 41, told Forbes in May that extra time the pandemic allotted for training has left her faster than she's ever been.

  • Stockwell lost her left leg while serving in Iraq. She medically retired from the U.S. Army and began playing sports competitively.
  • Stockwell made her Paralympic debut as a swimmer at the 2008 Beijing Games. She later picked up the paratriathlon and became a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Games.
  • "I was always athletic growing up," Stockwell said, per Forbes. "I knew that if I trained hard enough, I would get to compete on the world stage."
Kaitlyn Verfuerth, paracanoing
Kaitlyn Verrfuerth
Kaitlyn Verfuerth poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Kaitlyn Verfuerth is putting down her tennis racket and grabbing a paddle as she competes in her first 200-meter paracanoe Paralympic race.

  • Verfuerth, 36, who competed in wheelchair tennis at the Athens, Beijing and Rio Games, only began canoeing competitively in 2018.
  • The Paralympic veteran is paralyzed from the waist down, stemming from injuries sustained in a car accident when she was 7 years old.
  • “I am brand new to this sport. I really just started competing in 2018 and to be honest, I am really lucky to be going,” Verfuerth said, per the Arizona Republic.
Steve Serio, wheelchair basketball
Steve Serio of the United States in action in the Men's final between Great Britain and USA during the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships
Steve Serio of the United States in action in the men's final between Great Britain and the U.S. during the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships in 2018. Photo: Moto Yoshimura/Getty Images

Two-time Paralympic medalist Steve Serio, 33, is prepared to bring home the gold in what he said will likely be "one of the most competitive" wheelchair basketball events he's ever seen, according to Forbes.

  • Serio was paralyzed from the waist down when, at 11 months old, an operation to remove a spinal tumor resulted in the compression of his spinal cord.
  • At 14 years old, he picked up wheelchair basketball and has since played in three Paralympics, winning bronze in London and gold in Rio.
  • "We think that Tokyo is going to be one of the most competitive events we've ever seen, because of how much the game of basketball has grown across the globe," Serio told Forbes.
How to watch:

The Paralympics will take place from Aug. 24-Sept. 5, and will stream on NBCOlympics.com, with many events broadcast on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). Some events to watch:

  • Opening ceremony: Aug. 24 at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN (watch the replay at 2 p.m. on NBC Sports)
  • Wheelchair basketball and swimming events: Begin Aug. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • Wheelchair tennis: Aug. 26 at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • Triathlon and several track and field events: Begin Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m. ET on the Olympic Channel
  • Sitting volleyball: Aug. 30 at 3 a.m. ET on NBCSN
  • The paramarathon: Begins Sept. 4 at 5:30 p.m. ET on the Olympic Channel
  • Closing ceremony: Sept. 5 at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN
  • See the full TV schedule.

Editor's note: All times are subject to change.

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