Saturday, November 27 2021

Becca Meyers, a deafblind swimmer and two-time Paralympian, withdrew from the U.S. team ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics next month after the USOPC denied her request for a personal care assistant (PCA ) with her in Japan.

Meyers, 26, was born with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. She was born deaf and gradually lost her sight. She is a six-time Paralympic medalist, winning three gold and one silver at the Rio 2016 Games, as well as a silver and bronze in London 2012. Meyers needs a PCA to compete at the most high level and accomplish daily tasks. such as navigating the bus system, going to the venue, and eating in the dining room while being on site at events. Meyers informed U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials on Sunday evening via email.

“Team USA and USOPC know that I am deaf and blind,” Meyers told ESPN. “I need a personal care assistant that I can trust. They claim that due to COVID restrictions I cannot be approved for a PCA. But I really don’t believe it is fair to because of COVID They chose to ignore my They chose to ignore my request for my team.

“This makes me really angry. I’m a disabled person. And I don’t feel safe going to Tokyo without my PCA. I shouldn’t have to worry about my safety in Tokyo because I was refused. my PCA How does an organization that prides itself on celebrating athletes with a disability do that to an athlete with a disability? “

The USOPC did not immediately respond to ESPN’s comments, but did address Meyers’ situation in an article published by the Washington Post:

“We are facing unprecedented restrictions on what is possible on the ground in Tokyo. As has been widely reported, [the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games], under the direction of the Government of Japan, does not allow any personnel other than essential operational personnel with roles related to the overall execution of the games, in the country.

“This position has led some athletes to advise us that they will not accept a nomination to the United States team for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Supporting resources at a major international competition, but our top priority is to ensure the safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and citizens of the host country. “

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Meyers decided not to have a PCA. However, after a frustrating and frightening experience when she couldn’t find the athletes’ dining room, she vowed never to put herself in this situation again.

“In 2016, I was still trying to understand my disabilities as a deafblind person,” Meyers said. “I didn’t really know what resources I needed. But then I had my seizure – my epic collapse. And I realized I couldn’t do this. I need help.”

After Rio, she chose to have her mother, Maria, as a PCA to help her navigate in and out of the pool. But on a larger scale, she said her experience in 2016 had been a red flag that the Paralympic swim team did not have the appropriate resources for visually and hearing impaired athletes.

“No one on the [Team USA Paralympic] the swimming staff were equipped to take care of a deafblind person outside the pool. They are swimming coaches, ”she said. “They didn’t know how to work with us, and that’s what I’m trying to change. We need people who are certified to work with visually impaired and hearing impaired athletes so that we can be successful at the highest level, so that we can reach the biggest stage. We can’t be stressed out by tasks like trying to find the dining room or the dorms. Basic things. And then do you expect us to go out and compete and win a medal? It’s amazing to me. “

Since 2017, Meyers’ mother has been permitted to travel with her to international competitions as a PCA. With Maria there, Meyers won five gold medals at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships in 2018 and four medals and two world records at the World Para Swimming Championships in 2019.

But the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in restrictions on travel, spectators and non-essential workers for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. For athletes like Meyers, these restrictions mean PCAs will not be allowed in Japan for the Paralympic Games, which are scheduled from August 24 to September 5. As a result, Meyers did not feel safe to attend the competition without her mother by her. side and decided to withdraw.

“It’s hard to express, but the first word that comes to my mind is anger,” Maria Meyers told ESPN.

“She was a candidate for a medal. We would call the USOPC and tell them that all she needed was someone to support her. We understood that I might not be able to go because i am also her mom, but we asked them to give her someone. Someone designated just for her. A PCA just for her so that when she flies to Tokyo at night and needs to go to the bathroom in the plane, someone can help her. When she needs to find her luggage and get to the Olympic Village, someone can help her. It’s all those little things that they don’t even think about. “

The USOPC explained to Meyers and his family that the Japanese government and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee have placed restrictions on foreign visitors and delegations.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to CPIs [International Paralympic Committee] criteria for minor chaperone accreditation, Becca does not qualify and therefore this option is not available, ”wrote Rick Adams, USOPC Head of Sport Performance Services and National Governing Bodies, in an e- mail to Mark Meyers, Becca’s father, June 29. “There are no exceptions to late additions to our list of delegations other than athletes and essential operational staff by the organizing committee and the government of Japan.”

“I fully understand your concerns and I wish we could find a way as we have done in the past.”

However, the Meyers family do not believe that the Japanese government and the organizing committee are solely responsible for blocking the PCA’s request.

“The USOPC has not tried to help the situation. As of February, they have been aware of this problem. And they have not tried to remedy the situation at all. They just expressed that they cannot. not welcome me and they weren’t doing it. Want to find a solution, “Becca Meyers said.” They pretended it was the Japanese government, but we don’t believe it. They said the Japanese government does not allow non-essential personnel, and I respect that. But my PCA is essential. “

Meyers has learned that the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team will have a dedicated PCA for 34 athletes, and that the team’s six coaches can help. Meyers and his family believe Paralympic athlete PCAs should be designated as essential workers.

Nine US Paralympic swimmers are named visually impaired, but Meyers is the only one who is also deaf. Over the past few years, Meyers said his eyesight had deteriorated. And although she has cochlear implants that help her hear in quiet environments, she relies heavily on lip reading. With mask warrants in effect in Japan during the Games, Meyers said she knew she would not be able to communicate at all.

After submitting his letter of withdrawal on Sunday evening, Meyers said he received a response that the USOPC would begin the process of finding his replacement.

“I’m disgusted,” Meyers said. “As an athlete I did everything right for this organization. I won medals. I trained so hard, especially during the postponement and the pandemic. I wanted to be the best athlete. feel like you’ve been kicked in the teeth. Like, they don’t care about anyone. “

Upon stepping down, Meyers said she wanted to spread a message and fight for change for the next generation of athletes with disabilities.

“This culture has to change. I have to stand up for young athletes who are like me. I have to take a stand. Enough is enough,” she said. “The next generation cannot go to Paris 2024 being afraid. As a person with a disability, why am I still fighting for my rights in 2021? It’s ridiculous. I do this for future generations so they don’t have to. feel the pain that I have been through. “

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