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Deaf-blind swimmer Becca Meyers quits Team USA after being told to navigate Tokyo Paralympics alone

Deaf-blind swimmer Becca Meyers quits Team USA after being told to navigate Tokyo Paralympics alone

"We've broken barriers in society, defying all odds. And yet this is how we're treated? Like a burden on the team?" the 26-year-old Payalympian asked.

Five years ago, a frustrated and terrified Becca Meyers found herself balled up and sobbing on the floor of her room in the Olympic Village at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics. Unable to find the athletes' dining area, she hadn't been eating. Although her parents eventually rescued her and got some food in her just in time for her to win three gold medals and a silver for Team USA, Meyers promised herself that she would never again put herself through such a nightmarish situation. However, roughly five weeks before the start of the Tokyo Paralympics, the deaf-blind swimmer was left with a difficult choice: forget the promise and fly to Tokyo without a personal care assistant (PCA), or keep her word and pull the plug on her Olympic dream. Meyers chose the latter.



 

The 26-year-old swimmer this week informed U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) officials that she will be withdrawing from Team USA due to being denied permission to bring her PCA to Tokyo. "I would love to go to Tokyo," Meyers told The Washington Post. "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."



 

Born with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that left her deaf from birth and that progressively has robbed her of her eyesight, Meyers requires a PCA to function as an athlete and as a member of society. For the past five years, the athlete has had an understanding with the USOPC that permits her mother, Maria, to travel with her to international competitions as her PCA. The benefits of this provision have been very evident in her performance. She won five gold medals at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships in Cairns, Australia, in 2018, and the following year, she won four medals and set two world records, the eighth and ninth of her career, at the World Para Swimming Championships in London.



 

However, for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, COVID-19 restrictions have imposed significant limitations on foreign delegations — including personal care assistants. "She's given her entire life for this. It's unacceptable. It's heartbreaking," Meyers' mom, Maria, said. "She is terrified to go [alone]. And I mean terrified — like, rolled up in a ball, shaking." The athlete admitted that she's been very stressed about the idea of going to Tokyo alone. "I haven't been sleeping. I'm so stressed," Meyers said. "My training started to suffer because of this situation, and I just haven't been able to be the best I can be. I know I can be the best I can be with the resources I need. It's worked for the last four years."



 

"There remain no exceptions to late additions to our delegation list other than the athletes and essential operational personnel per the organizing committee and the government of Japan,” Rick Adams, chief of sport performance and national governing body services for the USOPC, told Mark Meyers, the athlete's father, in a June 29 email. "As I said to you both on the phone and over email, I fully empathize with your concerns and wish we could fine [sic] a way as we have in the past." However, the family believes the Japanese government and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee are not the ones to be blamed.



 

"We contacted the Maryland secretary of state. We had somebody contact the Japanese government, the ambassador — they all say it's not the government [and] it's not the organizing committee. It's the USOPC that's blocking this," said Mark. "They can ask for more [official credentials]... They just did not plan for her. They knew about this [issue] in February. They said, 'Sorry, we can't help you.' They've had time to fix this, if they asked the right people. They've chosen not to."



 

"No one has ever asked me what I need," Meyers chimed in. "No one has ever asked me that question. When we had a meeting in May to discuss this, I presented my case and I said, 'Okay, how do we make this work?' They talked right over me. They dismissed me. They said, 'This is what we have; you're going to have to deal with it.'" The USOPC informed the family there will be one dedicated PCA for the U.S. Paralympic swim team — which consists of 34 athletes — and six coaches who can assist with personal needs. "This is the Paralympics. We should be celebrating everyone's disabilities," Meyers said. "We've broken barriers in society, defying all odds. And yet this is how we're treated? Like a burden on the team? It's been really hard. But I know I have to step up and say enough is enough. I need to protect the younger kids. I have to do something to force change."

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