U.S. Paralympic hopefuls to watch as Sunday marks 500 days until the 2024 Paris Games …
Leanne Smith, Swimming
After one medal at the Tokyo Games (silver), Smith won a meet-leading seven gold medals at last June’s world championships, the best medal haul for a U.S. swimmer at a worlds since Jessica Long in 2010. Two months later, the 34-year-old was rushed to the emergency room with difficulty breathing and admitted to the intensive care unit with what she later learned was a partially collapsed lung.
“I lost the ability to breathe normally, talk, swallow, eat solids and control the muscles surrounding my left eye,” Smith posted on social media in December.
Smith is entered in a late April qualifying meet for this summer’s world championships and considered a contender for the world team, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Deja Young-Craddock, Track and Field
Young-Craddock attempted suicide leading up to the 2016 Games while dealing with depression and anxiety. After asking for help and with the support of family and friends, she returned to the track and swept 100m and 200m golds in her Paralympic debut in Rio.
She followed that with 100m bronze in Tokyo just behind silver medalist countrywoman Brittni Mason, another top U.S. hopeful for Paris.
Then last June 29, Young-Craddock had daughter Saia Rae. She joins a long list of Paralympic medalist moms looking to return to the Games, including swimmer Mallory Weggemann and several sitting volleyball players, including Tokyo Paralympic MVP and captain Katie Holloway Bridge.
Nick Mayhugh, Track and Field
Led the U.S. track and field team in Tokyo with three gold medals, one silver and world records in his classification in the 100m and 200m.
Mayhugh, a 27-year-old who has been coached by his older brother, is a convert from soccer, where he played for Virginia’s Radford University and earned a 2019 Parapan American Games bronze medal.
This July’s world championships — the first worlds in four years — will paint a clearer picture of medal prospects across the sport.
Oksana Masters, Cycling
After breaking the career U.S. Winter Paralympic medals record in 2022 (14 total), Masters is again expected to switch back to cycling for a Summer Games bid. She has competed in each of the last six Paralympics including winter and summer.
In Tokyo, she won both of her events — the road race and time trial — then won another three gold medals between cross-country skiing and biathlon six months later.
Masters isn’t the only Winter Paralympic champion eyeing the Paris Games. Kendall Gretsch, who shared biathlon podiums with Masters, is expected to bid for a repeat triathlon gold medal. Jack Wallace, a two-time hockey gold medalist, is again training for sprint kayak after making a brief try for Tokyo.
Steve Serio, Basketball
Captain of U.S. men’s teams that took gold at the last two Games. Serio nearly had a triple-double in the 2016 Paralympic final, then scored a game-high 28 points in the gold-medal game in Tokyo.
Now 35, he is expected to vie for a fifth Paralympics. Fellow standouts Jake Williams and Brian Bell joined Serio in making the 12-man roster for June’s world championship.
The U.S. men took silver at the last two worlds in 2014 and 2018 and last won a world title in 2002.
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