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Olympics

Oregon woman dreams gold

Disabled athlete going to London

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Zena Cole, who was paralyzed by polio, will compete for the United States in the Paralympic Games in August and September.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
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Zena Cole plans to throw for the gold in London next month.

The Oregon resident has earned a spot on Team USA and will compete in track and field at the Paralympic Games in the British capital.

Her events are the discus and club throw, which is a Paralympic version of the hammer throw. She has been training hard at Pearson Metropark and in her backyard. She competes in the quadriplegic category and holds the national record in both events.

The Paralympics will be held Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.

Beth Bourgeois, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the Paralympic movement was started after World War II as a way to help disabled service members get active and that more than 4,200 athletes will participate in London.

Ms. Cole said she is delighted to be among them. Her expenses will be paid by the Olympic Committee.

At 55, Ms. Cole is the oldest member of the 19-member Paralympic women's track and field team. She qualified for Team USA in 2010, but said she has always loved athletics and participated when she could even as a disabled child growing up in North and South Toledo.

She contracted polio when she was 18 months old. She had been vaccinated, she said, "but my body rejected the vaccination."

She was in an iron lung until she was 4 years old. Then she wore braces and used crutches until she was 12, and kept breaking and wearing them out by playing baseball.

"My doctors told me I would use a wheelchair for the rest of my life, but I would go out skateboarding," she recalled.

Then in 1991, she came down with postpolio syndrome, a condition that afflicts many polio survivors years after their initial attack. She experienced pain and a further weakening of her muscles.

Today she has no use of her legs or right arm and gets around in a motorized wheelchair and converted van. Her competitive throwing is done with her left arm. She had to retire on disability from her job with the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation after the onset of the postpolio syndrome.

Her handicaps haven't prevented her from racking up some impressive athletic achievements and traveling the world in the process.

"To have the opportunities I have had is a dream come true," she said.

Last year, she competed for the United States in the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, and in the International Paralympics Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.

She won a gold medal in the discus in Mexico and a silver in New Zealand.

"There was nothing more rewarding than to be on that pedestal and have the American flag raised with the anthem playing," she said.

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