Becca Meyers, a swimmer seen as a favorite to bring gold home from Tokyo,
has canceled plans to compete in the Paralympics after being told she
can't bring a personal care assistant to Japan. Meyers is deaf and blind.
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) officials say they don't have
space for her to bring an aide because of coronavirus restrictions on
"I've had to make the gut-wrenching decision to withdraw from the Tokyo
2020 Paralympics," Meyers said Tuesday in a statement posted on her
Facebook page. "I'm angry, I'm disappointed, but most of all, I'm sad to
not be representing my country."
Meyers, 26, says officials have not taken her and other athletes' needs
into account. She won three gold medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro
Paralympics — but the experience also left her deeply shaken. In strange
new surroundings, she struggled to accomplish essential tasks on her own,
such as finding the athletes' dining hall.
Since then, her mother, Maria Meyers, has accompanied her at competitions
as a personal care assistant. But after being told her mother can't join
her in Tokyo, Meyers opted out.
"I would love to go to Tokyo," Meyers told The Washington Post, which
first reported her withdrawal. "Swimming has given me my identity as a
person. I've always been Becca the Swimmer Girl. I haven't taken this
lightly. This has been very difficult for me. [But] I need to say
something to effect change, because this can't go on any longer."
All signs had been pointing to Meyers turning in a special performance in
Tokyo. She has set new world records in recent years. Last month, she was
celebrating dominance at the Paralympic trials, where she secured a spot
on Team USA. Tokyo was set to be her third Paralympics.
Meyers, who was born with Usher syndrome, has thrived at sport's elite
level. Because of the genetic disorder, she is deaf (and is aided by
cochlear implants). She often relies on lip-reading, but her eyesight
continues to deteriorate — and because everyone in Tokyo will be wearing
masks, her ability to understand others would be hampered.
Rick Adams, the USOPC's chief of sport performance and national governing
body services, has told the Meyerses that while he empathizes with them,
Tokyo organizers have limited delegations to athletes and essential staff.
The USOPC told Meyers that the 34 athletes on the Paralympic swim team
would be supported by one dedicated personal care assistant (PCA), along
with six coaches. Nearly a third of the swimmers are visually impaired,
according to Meyers.
The Meyers family says the situation is untenable and must change. They
also believe the USOPC has held firm on its position to avoid a rush of
athletes attempting to add their own PCAs to the delegation.
Meyers, who lives in a suburb between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., has
been training with the Nation's Capital Swim Club, which launched the
Olympic careers of stars such as Katie Ledecky and Tom Dolan. There,
Meyers has trained under famed coach Bruce Gemmell.
"Your heart just breaks for her," Gemmell told the Post. "It seems to me
if our focus is athletes first, which it should be but which it isn't
always — if athletes first is what we're doing, then we as a USOPC, we
need to do better. We must do better."
"Becca has been forced to make a decision that no Paralympian should ever
have to make and Speedo fully supports" her choice, the swimwear company
said in a statement sent to NPR. It added that it will "continue to stand
alongside Becca and support her journey and all that makes her an
inspiring role model for the next generation of swimmers."
The Tokyo Paralympics will start on Aug. 24 and run through Sept. 5.
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