A Vol at the Paralympics

by Accolades Staff
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By Amy Blakely

Alumnus Joshua Pate has studied the Paralympic Games for years. This winter, he experienced them firsthand as a volunteer, working as a news reporter for the games in Sochi, Russia.

Pate received his bachelor’s degree in sport management in 2002 and his master’s in journalism and electronic media in 2004. He then worked for a year as a writer in the president’s office at Georgia State University and spent four years as an interactive producer for Turner Sports.

Pate, who has cerebral palsy and walks with crutches, has always enjoyed sports. But for many years, he was only a fan.

“As I became aware of adapted sports, I began participating,” he says, adding that he now works out regularly, snow skis and water skis, and rides a hand cycle—a three-wheeled bike that he cranks with his hands instead of his feet.

[callout]”But I began asking myself, ‘Why in the world am I thirty years old and just now understanding there are opportunities for me to participate?’ When I decided to go back to school to work on my doctorate, I knew I wanted to study disability sport.”[/callout]

Pate returned to UT and completed his PhD in sport management in 2012. He’s now an assistant professor in sport and recreation management at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“A large part of my research has focused on the Paralympic games—the athletes, training, and history,” he says.

The Paralympics evolved from the Stoke Mandeville Games, a sporting event created in 1948 by Ludwig Guttmann, a physician who cared for patients with spinal injuries in the village of Stoke Mandeville, England. Renamed the Paralympics in 1960, the games are always held right after the Olympics in the same city.

This year’s Paralympic Games included alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, snowboarding, and wheelchair curling. Many of the events had separate divisions for athletes who must sit, those who can stand, and those who are visually impaired.

[callout]Pate applied to work at the Paralympics in Vancouver in 2010 and in London in 2012, but wasn’t accepted. In September 2013, he got the nod for Sochi. He worked as a reporter for the Paralympics News Services, which provided previews, synopsis, quotes, and results from the events.[/callout]

“Each sport has a group of these individuals on site. I collected quotes from athletes in curling,” he says.

The curling events were held daily (March 8–15). It was the only sport that had a competition every day of the games.

Pate admits he knew little about curling before going to Sochi.

“I’d seen it, obviously. I was fascinated by it,” he says. “The Paralympic curlers use wheelchairs and, unlike Olympic curling, no one is allowed to sweep. There is a little more technique involved in controlling the stone.”

Once he got his assignment, Pate began researching the athletes he would be covering and watching YouTube videos of wheelchair curling. He received training materials from the Paralympic Organizing Committee, including a blog he monitored daily.

He left for Russia in late February. He had to pay his own airfare but was provided free lodging and some meals in Sochi.

Half of the trip fell during his spring break at James Madison. During the other week, he stayed in touch with his students online.

He hopes his students—and others—learned more about the Paralympics this year.

“This was the first time NBC had broadcasted the Paralympic Games with fifty hours of coverage,” he says.

While excited about going to the games, Pate was apprehensive. He had never been to Russia before, and he was unsure how everything would work.

“I had to leave behind my wife, who is pregnant, and my six-year-old son. It was kind of nerve-wracking to know I’d be gone for seventeen days, not knowing what communication would be like,” he says.  “But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thirty years from now, I’ll look back and realize what a huge educational moment this was for me personally, for my research, and for my career.”

Visit Torchbearer magazine to read about CEHHS alumna Stephanie Jones-Garant, who helped with the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Sochi.