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Deaf-blind Paralympian withdraws from Tokyo Games after being denied personal care assistant

Paralympian Becca Meyers
Deaf-blind Paralympian Becca Meyers celebrates in the water at a swimming competition. |

A deaf and blind swimmer who is a three-time gold medalist withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games because of a COVID-19 restriction that prevents her from bringing a personal care assistant to help her navigate an unfamiliar environment. 

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee denied Becca Meyers’ need for a personal assistant due to COVID-19 personnel restrictions imposed by the Japanese government. 

The 26-year-old was born with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder resulting in a combination of hearing loss and visual impairment. She is a six-time Paralympic medalist, world record holder and winner of three gold medals and a silver medal at the Rio Games in 2016. Meyers also won silver and bronze medals at the London Games in 2012.

Paralympian Becca Meyers
Blind-deaf Paralympic swimmer Becca Meyers speaks in a video with her guide dog, Birdie. She withdrew from the Tokyo games on July 18, 2021, after being denied a personal care assistant due to COVID-19 personnel restrictions. |

Meyers received a response from the USOPC saying they would begin searching for her replacement after she submitted her withdrawal letter Sunday night, ESPN reported. 

Meyers detailed her disappointment with the USPOC’s unwillingness to offer accommodations for her disabilities in a piece published Tuesday in USA Today.  

“The Paralympic Games are supposed to be a haven for athletes with disabilities,” she wrote. “The one place where we are able to compete on a level playing field, with all amenities, protections and support systems in place.”

“After COVID-19 put last year’s Games in Tokyo on pause, we all expected and were forced to deal with the reality that this summer’s Paralympic Games would be altered in many ways,” she continued. “But then I learned this summer that U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee denied a reasonable and essential accommodation for me to be able to compete at the Games.”

Meyers said she has been “let down” by the USOPC in past competitions, namely the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. She claimed that the staff was not adequately equipped to care for a death-blind athlete and the special needs of other paralympic athletes. 

Meyers said she opted not to have an assistant at the Rio Games and promised she would never put herself in that situation again. Her mother, Maria, is now her personal care assistant and helps her navigate life with a disability. 

“What happens if there is an emergency in the middle of the night? What if we need to be moved from one venue to another quickly? Masks and distancing have made it incredibly difficult for me to make out what people are doing or saying. If I don’t have someone I can trust, how can I trust that I will be safe?” the Paralympian wrote. 

Since she cannot have an assistant help her navigate Toyko safely, competing in the event is out of reach for her this year. 

“Every single Paralympian has earned the right on this team to compete for our country,” she wrote. 

“The Paralympic movement has never had a bigger platform on the world’s stage than it is going to have this summer,” she continued. “Advertisers, brands and networks are all celebrating athletes with disabilities. Showcasing us breaking barriers, defying odds, overcoming adversity. What you don’t see though, is that many of those barriers and adverse situations are being created by our own Paralympic structure.”

Meyers said the decision not to compete was “agonizing" because she trained five years to make it back to the Paralympic Games. 

"I'm disgusted," Meyers told ESPN. "As an athlete, I did everything correct for this organization. I won medals. I trained so hard, especially during the postponement and pandemic. I wanted to be the best athlete. I feel like I was kicked in the teeth. Like, they just don't care about anyone."

The Christian Post reached out to the USOPC for comment but did not receive a response by press time. 

The USPOC said in a statement published by The Washington Post that the personnel restriction comes under the direction of the host country, Japan.

"We are dealing with unprecedented restrictions around what is possible on the ground in Tokyo. As it's been widely reported, [the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games], at the direction of the government of Japan, is not permitting any personnel other than operational essential staff with roles related to the overall execution of the games, into the country,” the USPOC statement reads. 

"This position has resulted in some athletes advising us that they will not accept a nomination to Team USA for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We are heartbroken for athletes needing to make agonizing decisions about whether to compete if they are unable to have their typical support resources at a major international competition, but our top priority is ensuring the safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and the citizens of the host country."

Meyers said that even though she knows the chances to swim for her country are coming to an end, she feels the need to "speak up for the next athlete who is deaf-blind or disabled in another way." 

"As Paralympians, we train as hard as our counterparts, the Olympians. We deserve the same quality and safety nets that our able-bodied teammates will receive in just a few days’ time," she wrote. 

“I have the Olympic rings tattooed on the back of my ribcage. That means something to me. It also should mean something to the country I swim for.”

Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: emily.wood@christianpost.com

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