Double-Amputee and Former Navy SEAL Wins Gold at PyeongChang Paralympics

There was a time not too long ago when physical disabilities meant sitting on the sidelines.

Whether it was running, jumping, dancing, skating… you name it. Those with physical disabilities often had to watch rather than participate.

Fortunately for all, this has now changed.

Those with physical disabilities might have to work twice as hard as others to reach their goals. But meeting those goals gives an incredible sense of personal accomplishment.

And sometimes those achievements become highly publicized.

Cnossen Dominates South Korean Event

Such was the case recently for double-amputee and former Navy SEAL Dan Cnossen, age 37.

He captured the gold medal in the first men’s biathlon event at the PyeongChang Paralympics. The event was held on March 7th in South Korea.

He won the 7.5-kilometer skiing competition by more than 10 seconds over the runner up. Cnossen also won five other medals at the Paralympics.

It was a tremendous accomplishment for a man who had determined to never quit.

Victory Comes in 25th Try

Cnossen has worked towards this gold medal for a long time. This was his 25th career biathlon and cross-country event at the World Championships and Paralympics. Dating back to 2011.

At the Sochi Paralympic Games in 2014 in Russia, he placed 14th in the biathlon.

“In the last Games that I did in Sochi, I let the TV screens and the announcer get to me,” Cnossen said, according to “Today I just focused on what I can do and nothing else matters.

“I crossed the line and I wasn’t even going to look at the board. And I was pleasantly surprised at the end.”

New Medal Joins Purple Heart, Bronze Star

Cnossen knows all about battling back from adversity. In September 2009, the Topeka, Kansas native was serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan.

He was severely injured and knocked unconscious by an improvised explosive device.

Eight days later he regained consciousness. It was then that Cnossen learned both of his legs had been amputated just above the knees.

He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor for his heroism. Cnossen is currently studying at Harvard University. He’s seeking a master’s degree in public administration and theological studies.

American Woman Also Captures Gold

Kendall Gretsch of Downers Grove, Illinois also won a gold medal that weekend. It came in the women’s biathlon at the PyeongChang Paralympics.

That made Gretsch and Cnossen the first Americans to win biathlon gold in the Paralympic or Olympic Games.

The highest previous finish in this event by an American was third place (bronze medal) by Andy Soule. That came at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Other Americans Excel

Overall, the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics were a huge success for the Americans. The U.S. won more total medals (36), more gold medals (13) and more silver medals (15) than any other country.

Among the other U.S. medal winners were…

  • Nordic skier Oksana Masters, who earned five medals overall including two gold medals. She was the U.S. flag bearer at the closing ceremony.
  • Snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, who won two gold medals in her Paralympics debut. Also winning gold in snowboarding were Mike Schultz, Noah Elliott and Mike Minor.
  • Alpine skier Andrew Kurka, who earned one gold medal and one silver medal. And this was after breaking his back while training four years ago.
  • The men’s sled hockey team, which won gold by defeating Canada 2-1 in overtime. Declan Farmer, the tournament’s MVP, scored both U.S. goals in the title game.

VA, USOC Team Up to Provide Opportunities

Wounded, ill and injured U.S. service men and women have often competed in these types of global events. Starting with the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

That’s thanks to a partnership between U.S. Paralympics and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). U.S. Paralympics is a division of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

There are hundreds of Paralympic Sport Clubs and community sport organizations. They work to provide these types of opportunities for service members and veterans.

These clubs now operate in 48 states and Washington, D.C. also. Their resources include coaching education and program development courses.

Disabilities Don’t Mean Sideline Watching

Individuals are welcome to participate if they have Paralympic-eligible impairments. That includes physical disabilities and visual impairments.

Thousands of service men and women have taken part in the program. And millions of dollars in grants to community-based organizations help the program flourish.

Physical disabilities no longer mean watching from the sidelines. Thanks to the VA and the USOC.

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