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Here Are The North Carolinians Competing In The Paralympics For Team USA In Tokyo

Lex Gillette
Jae C. Hong
Blind Paralympic athlete Lex Gillette poses for photos at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The games in Tokyo are not finished.

On Aug. 24, the 2020 Paralympics will begin in Japan and all eyes will be on some of the top athletes in the world, all competing with varying degrees of disabilities or impairments. The games will end on Sept. 5, and they'll be televised by NBC and its streaming service, Peacock.

Like the 2020 Olympics, the Paralympics were postponed a year due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.

The Paralympics began in 1960 and this will be the 16th edition of them.

According to data compiled by WUNC, nine athletes with connections to North Carolina are heading to Tokyo to compete in the games. Earlier this summer, 33 North Carolina athletes went to the Olympics and 20 came back as medalists.

At the Tokyo Paralympics, folks from the Tar Heel State returned home with five gold medals and one silver.

Hannah Aspden

Mexico Para Swimming
Rebecca Blackwell
Hannah Aspden, front, of the United States, and Paulina Wozniak, of Poland, compete in the women's 100-meter backstroke S9 final, during the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.

  • Event: 100-meter freestyle; 100-meter backstroke; 100-meter breaststroke; 200-meter individual medley
  • NC Connection: Graduate of Leesville Road High School; Student at Queens University of Charlotte

This will be the second Paralympics for Aspden, who took home a pair of bronze medals at the 2016 games in Rio, placing third in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4x100-meter medley relay. A native of Raleigh, Aspden was born with congenital hip disarticulation and has no left leg. Still, she’s been swimming competitively since the age of eight. In Rio, she was the youngest Team USA swimmer to medal at the age of 16.

  • In Tokyo: In her second Paralympics, Aspden secured her first gold medal, winning the 100-meter backstroke S9 with a time of 1:09.22. Aspden entered the race as the top seed and never relinquished her place. Aspden bested swimmers from Spain and New Zealand for the crown. Aspden won a second gold medal later, as part of the team that triumphed in the 4x100-meter medley 34-point relay.

Kelly Elmlinger

Invictus Games
John Raoux
Kelly Elmlinger reacts after winning the women's 400 meter IT4 and IT5 race at the Invictus Games, Tuesday, May 10, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla.

  • Event: Triathlon
  • NC Connection: 2010 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill

An Army veteran, Elmlinger served 10 years with the 82nd Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Unit in Iraq and Afghanistan. A graduate of UNC’s nursing school, Elmlinger became an avid runner when she moved to Texas after college. In 2013, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer, and later had her left leg amputated. Still, she never stopped running. Elmlinger has competed in the Boston Marathon and the USA Paratriathlon National Championships. Earlier this year, she won two gold medals at the World Triathlon Para Series events in Yokohama, Japan, and in Leeds, England. This is her first Paralympics.

Heather Erickson

USA Womens Sitting Volleyball
Erickson, who is from Fayetteville, has medaled three previous times in sitting volleyball.

  • Event: Sitting Volleyball
  • NC Connection: Native of Fayetteville; Graduate of Jack Britt High School

This will be the fourth Paralympics for Erickson, who was part of the USA sitting volleyball teams that won silver in Beijing and London, and gold in Rio. Erickson was born with a bone that prevented her right leg from being fully developed, and it was later amputated below the knee when she was nine. For the past nine years, Erickson has been a coach in Oklahoma at the high school level and with the Wounded Warriors program.

  • In Tokyo: Team USA topped China 3-1 for the gold medal, giving Erickson her second gold and fourth medal overall. She had six digs and 21 points in the match.

Lex Gillette

  • Event: Long Jump
  • NC Connection: Native of Kinston; Graduate of Athens Drive High School; Graduate of East Carolina University

Gillette will be making his fifth Paralympic appearance in Tokyo and is chasing after an elusive gold medal. Beginning in Athens in 2004, he has taken home a silver medal in long jump in each of the last four Paralympics. Gillette began going blind at the age eight, according to Team USA’s website. He was the first totally-blind athlete in the world to eclipse 22-feet in the long jump. Most recently, Gillette won the gold at the 2019 World Championships for long jump. In past Paralympics, he has also logged top 10 finishes in triple-jump and the 4x100-meter relay.

  • In Tokyo: Gillette placed second in long jump T11, taking home the fifth silver medal of his Paralympics career. Gillette fouled on his first attempt, then posted a jump of 6.17 meters. The winner though — China's Di Dongdong — bested Gillette by about a foot, jumping a distance of 6.47 meters.

Maria Liana Mutia

El Toro Judo Club
This is the first Paralympics for the 22-year-old from the Philippines. She trained at the El Toro Judo Club in Raleigh.

  • Event: Judo
  • NC Connection: Graduate of Millbrook High School; Trains at El Toro Judo Club in Raleigh

A native of Manila, Philippines, Mutia will be competing in her first Paralympics. The 22-year-old is visually impaired. According to her coach Chester Evans, he told her in 2016 that she would make the games in Tokyo. He said if she did, he would get a tattoo. So, before Mutia returns from Japan, her former coach will have some fresh ink. Evans, a disabled veteran of the Marines, wrote to WUNC in an email that he is “a proud coach.” Mutia will compete in the 63-KG weight class.

Lawrence Sapp

 This is the first Paralympics for Charlotte-born Lawrence Sapp. The talented swimmer grew up in Waldorf, Maryland.
This is the first Paralympics for Charlotte-born Lawrence Sapp. The talented swimmer grew up in Waldorf, Maryland.

  • Event: 100-meter butterfly; 200-meter individual medley; 200-meter freestyle
  • NC Connection: Born in Charlotte

Sapp grew up in Waldorf, Maryland, but was born in Charlotte and has been swimming since the age of five. By the time he was 18, Sapp had been diagnosed with autism and an intellectual impairment. But it never stopped him from succeeding in the pool. As a high school freshman, he broke five of his school's varsity swimming records. He's been a member of the national team since 2017, and at the World Championships, he has medaled twice. This is his first Paralympics.

Emma Schieck

Photo courtesy Emma Schieck
UNC-Chapel Hill Communications
Emma Schieck (right) competing for the United States in sitting volleyball.

  • Event: Sitting Volleyball
  • NC Connection: Graduate of South Iredell High School; Student at UNC-Chapel Hill

At birth, Schieck suffered nerve damage in her left arm – also called a brachial plexus injury – which limits her ability to straighten, rotate or put her arm behind her back. Still, she never shied away from athletics. She began playing volleyball at the age of seven and started playing sitting volleyball a few years ago. An outside hitter, she was a member of the USA team that won gold at the World Championships in 2019. This will be the first Paralympics for Schieck.

  • In Tokyo: Team USA topped China 3-1 for the gold medal, giving Schieck her first Paralympics medal. She had one point in the gold medal match, seeing action in sets three and four.

Morgan Stickney

Morgan Stickney
. This is the first Paralympics for the 24-year-old. Stickney will compete in the 400-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle.

  • Event: 400-meter freestyle; 100-meter freestyle
  • NC Connection: Resident of Cary; Trains at the Triangle Aquatic Center

Stickney was one of the top swimmers in the country at the age of 15 and had her sights set on competing at the Olympic games. But a freak injury and an infection led to the amputation of her left leg below the knee in 2018. Months later, a rare vascular disease discovered in her right leg led to another below the knee amputation. According to, Stickney was the first patient to undergo a bilateral Ewing amputation, an experimental procedure to give a patient more sense in their limbs. Weeks after her amputation, Stickney was back in the pool. This is the first Paralympics for the 24-year-old.

  • In Tokyo: Stickney won her first gold medal, taking the victory in the women's 400-meter S8 race with a time of 4:42.39 on Aug. 31. She edged out fellow American swimmer Jessica Long by 1.02 seconds for the win.

Conner Stroud

Stroud is a three-time junior World Team Cup champion in wheelchair tennis.

  • Event: Wheelchair Tennis (Singles)
  • NC Connection: Resident of Rutherfordton; Graduate of the Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy

This will be the first Paralympics for Stroud, who was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, which means he was born without femurs, hips, ankles or knees. At the age of four, he began playing tennis, and transitioned to wheelchair tennis at the age of 13. He is a five-time member of the junior World Cup Team for the sport, and won first place in singles at several events in 2019. Stroud attends the University of Alabama.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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