Meet the Latter-day Saint Paralympians competing in Tokyo

When the Paralympic Games open on Aug. 24 — after a one-year pandemic delay — the competition of 539 events across 22 sports at 21 venues will begin. The Paralympic Games have roots in the London Olympic Games in 1948 with the first competition for wheelchair athletes — 16 injured servicemen and servicewomen — in archery. The Stoke Mandeville Games became the Paralympic Games in 1960 in Rome, Italy, according to paralympic.org. 

A dozen athletes connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among those competing at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. The competition dates listed below are as of Aug. 16, and the dates of some events were not yet available.

If you know of any other Latter-day Saints competing in the Tokyo Paralympic Games, please email their name, country and sport to [email protected] 

United States

Wheelchair fencing: Twenty-year-old Shelby Jensen, of Salt Lake City, started fencing when she was 15 years old. She had a stroke when she was 7 years old, which affected her right side. Jensen, a student at Salt Lake Community College, won gold at the 2021 national championships in parafencing saber and parafencing epee and won silver in parafencing foil. She won bronze at the U23 Wheelchair World Championships in Category A epee.

When to watch: She will be fencing in Category A epee and saber and the women’s team epee and foil. The wheelchair fencing events are Aug. 25-29. The individual saber competitions are on Aug. 25 and individual epee on Aug. 26. The women’s team epee events are on Aug. 27 and the team foil events on Aug. 29. 

United States’ Eric Bennett uses his mouth to pull back his arrow as he competes in the individual recurve open archery event at the Paralympic Games at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.
United States’ Eric Bennett uses his mouth to pull back his arrow as he competes in the individual recurve open archery event at the Paralympic Games at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. Credit: Silvia Izquierdo, Associated Press

Pararchery: Tokyo is the fourth Paralympics for Eric Bennett, 48, of Surprise, Arizona. He was eighth in the recurve division in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and fourth in the 2012 Games in London. The high school physics and engineering teacher in 2019 won silver at the world championships. He lost his right arm above the elbow in a car accident when he was 15 and uses a mouth tab to pull back the string.

When to watch: Bennett competes in the recurve division, which starts Aug. 27 with the preliminary round. The individual recurve open tournament is on Sept. 3. 

Goalball: Daryl Walker, 39, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was part of Team USA that won silver in 2016 in the Paralympics in Rio and bronze at the world championships in 2014 and 2006. Tokyo will be his third Paralympics. Walker, who has albinism and is legally blind, first played goalball when he was in high school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and recently certified to be a yoga instructor. 

When to watch: Team USA’s first match is against Brazil in the Group A preliminary pool on Aug. 26. The team plays Japan on Aug. 27, Great Britain on Aug. 28 and Lithuania on Aug. 30. The quarterfinals are on Aug. 31, the semifinals are on Sept. 2, and the medal matches on Sept. 3.

Paralympian David Blair poses for a photo with his gold medal in Eagle Mountain, Utah, on Sept. 19, 2016.
Paralympian David Blair poses for a photo with his gold medal in Eagle Mountain, Utah, on Sept. 19, 2016. Credit: Hans Koepsell, Deseret News

Track and field: David Blair, 45, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, is headed to his second Paralympics to defend his gold medal from the 2016 Games in Rio in the F44 classification for those with lower limb impairments. Blair, who was born with a club foot, was high school state champion in discus and received an athletics scholarship to Weber State University, setting records along the way. He picked up the sport after 16 years and then qualified to compete in Rio, where he set a Paralympic record. He’s been battling health challenges, including a broken foot in 2019, and COVID-19 in 2020 followed by appendicitis. 

When to watch: Event information unavailable.

BYU-Idaho student Taylor Talbot, 20, of Oregon, is racing in the 100-meter and 400-meter races in her first Paralympic Games. She has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, and is legally blind. She competes in the T13 division for those who are visually impaired. She was named a Paralympic All-American by the Oregon School Activities Association in 2017. 

When to watch: The 100-meter T13 preliminary heats and finals are on Aug. 31. The 400-meter T13 heats are on Sept. 2, and the finals on Sept. 4.

United States' Josh Wheeler, center, fights for the ball with France's Riadh Sallem, right, and Christophe Salegui during a mixed wheelchair rugby group B game at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016.
United States’ Josh Wheeler, center, fights for the ball with France’s Riadh Sallem, right, and Christophe Salegui during a mixed wheelchair rugby group B game at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. Credit: Leo Correa, Associated Press

Wheelchair rugby: Josh Wheeler, 41, of Tucson, Arizona, was part of the wheelchair rugby team in 2016 in Rio that won silver. He’s been on the bronze-winning national teams at the world championships in 2018 and 2014. In 2006, the returned missionary was in a motorcycle accident and broke his neck, losing function in his lower body and some function in his right arm. His classification is a 2.5, with 3.5 the highest mobility, and teams are allowed four players with a total of up to 8 points on the court.

When to watch: Wheelchair rugby events start Aug. 25 with the preliminary pool events that go through to the medal matches on Aug. 29.

Canada

Sitting volleyball: Payden Vair, 22, an attacker on the Canadian women’s team, played soccer at Cardston (Alberta) High School and also at Lethbridge College, where she was the Rookie of the Year in 2018. She was in a lawn mower accident when she was home for the summer and her legs were run over. Doctors saved her left leg, but her right leg was amputated below the knee. She joined the sitting volleyball team in 2019 and helped it win gold at the 2020 World ParaVolley final. 

When to watch: The women’s team preliminary games start on Aug. 27. The semifinal matches are on Sept. 3 and the gold medal match on Sept. 5. 

Ireland

Ireland’s Jason Smyth celebrates after winning the men’s 100-meter T13 final race at the 2012 Paralympics in London, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012.
Ireland’s Jason Smyth celebrates after winning the men’s 100-meter T13 final race at the 2012 Paralympics in London, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press

Track and field: Sprinter Jason Smyth, 34, of Ireland, is looking to defend his three gold medals in the 100-meter T13 division from Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. He also has two medals in the 200-meter T13 event in 2008 and 2012; it was discontinued in 2016. He was diagnosed with Stargardts disease when he was 8 years old and is legally blind.

When to watch: The 100-meter T13 race heats and finals are on Aug. 29. 

New Zealand

Track and field: Lisa Adams, 30, who has cerebral palsy, is coached by her sister Valerie Adams, who recently won bronze in the Tokyo Olympic Games and has won two Olympic gold medals in the sport. Lisa Adams, of Rotorua, New Zealand, started throwing three years ago and competes in the F37 division for those with coordination impairments. She won gold in the F37 division at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, in 2019, setting a world record.

When to watch: The finals in the shot put F37 are on Aug. 28. 

Australia 

Australia’s Todd Hodgetts celebrates after a world-record throw in the men’s shot put F20 final at the 2012 Paralympics, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, in London. Hodgetts won gold in the event.
Australia’s Todd Hodgetts celebrates after a world-record throw in the men’s shot put F20 final at the 2012 Paralympics, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, in London. Hodgetts won gold in the event. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated Press

Track and field: Todd Hodgetts, 33, of Melbourne, Australia, won gold in the shot put F20 division at the 2012 London Paralympic Games — and set a world record. In 2016 at the Rio Games, he won bronze. Nicknamed “The Hulk,” Hodgetts was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 8 years old. 

When to watch: The finals in the shot put F20 are on Aug. 31. 

Chile 

Track and field: Margarita Faúndez, 33, of Santiago, Chile, won bronze in the 1,500-meter race T11 division (for visual impairments) at the 2019 Parapan American Games. She also competed in the 2016 Rio Paralympics. She was diagnosed at 5 years old with retinitis pigmentosa, which is a degenerative eye disorder. 

When to watch: The 1,500-meter T11 preliminary heats are on Aug. 29 and the finals are on Aug. 30. 

Dominican Republic 

Swimming: Lourdes Alejandra Aybar, a native of Azua, Dominican Republic, was 26 years old when she learned to swim after a knee injury. Now, at 32, the industrial engineer is going to her first Paralympic Games. She won the  silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, SB6 division, at the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru. Abyar, who is 4 foot 3 inches tall, has brittle bone disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as crystal bone disease. She swims in the 100-meter breaststroke, 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly, in the divisions for those with physical impairments. 

When to watch: The 100-meter breaststroke SB6 division heats and finals are on Aug. 28. The 50-meter freestyle S8 preliminary heats and finals are on Sept. 1. For the 100-meter butterfly S8 the preliminary heats and finals are on Sept. 3.