Paralympics plans growth: 

Allard pushing for space to aid USOC expansion for injured vets

click to enlarge Paralympics, part of the U.S. Olympics, is looking to grow - into this building on Willamette Avenue as it reaches out - to increasing numbers of disabled athletes. - PHOTO BY MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • photo by Matthew Schniper
  • Paralympics, part of the U.S. Olympics, is looking to grow into this building on Willamette Avenue as it reaches out to increasing numbers of disabled athletes.

Veterans injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will play a greater role on the U.S. Paralympics team in coming years and that has Sen. Wayne Allard pushing for a new headquarters for Paralympics Inc. in Colorado Springs.

"There's an increasing number of vets in the burgeoning Paralympics population," says Allard's chief of staff, Sean Conway. "The senator thinks they deserve the best."

As of the 2012 Olympics in London, about 10 percent of Paralympics athletes are expected to be veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a draft of the bill that could be introduced this week.

The bill would allow the transfer of an abandoned federal government building at 1520 E. Willamette Ave. to U.S. Paralympics Inc., a subsidiary of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The building is about two blocks away from the U.S. Olympic Training Center at 1 Olympic Plaza, where some 250 athletes will train for the 2008 Summer Paralympics in China.

Paralympics Inc. would pay the federal government $1 million for the building, according to the bill. The subsidiary also would need to come up with additional cash to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Allard spokeswoman Laura Condeluci.

Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics Inc., couldn't speak to such specifics earlier this week.

However, he says the new building will help expand a successful pilot program at a handful of veterans hospitals to all 156 of such U.S. facilities by 2008.

"We are expanding the program significantly nationally," Huebner says. "That's why this opportunity is so appealing."

While the number of Paralympics athletes is expected to grow due to outreach, Huebner says the main goal of expansion is to help people with disabilities thrive through fitness and education.

"It's about being a partner in the rehabilitation process to get individuals active in their communities again," he says. "That's really a role we hope to play."

The idea for the bill came on the heels of an Allard visit with USOC officials last year. The senator then built support with city and El Paso County officials for converting the building, Conway says.

"This [bill] has broad-based community support," Conway says. "This government building is basically abandoned at this point. It serves no real purpose. It is excess property. The USOC wants to step up to the plate, purchase the building. We think it is a win-win."



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