Olympic Bites 4th July 2012
Countdown… 23 days! This week, we share the experiences of Susie Parker-Simmons, Accredited Sports Dietitian at the Paralympic Games, Beijing 2008.
If you are ever feeling stressed, down on your luck or angry at something or someone in your world, go to the Paralympics. No matter what life throws at you, somebody there has been more challenged than you.
Paralympic athletes have an impairment in body structure and functions that leads to a competitive disadvantage in sport. Consequently, criteria are put in place to ensure that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus; the same factors that account for success in sport for athletes who are able-bodied. Athletes in the Paralympic Games belong to any of the following six different impairment groups: amputation, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal injury, intellectual disability and a group which includes all athletes that do not fit into the groups – “les autres”. A sport class is a category for competition, which is determined by procedures that may include a physical and technical assessment of the athlete, and observation in and out of competition.
For each sport, each athlete is assigned a sport class according to the relevant classification rules in the specific sport. In individual sports, typically a letter and number combination is used (e.g. T42, F36, S9). In team sports such as Wheelchair Basketball and Rugby, a points system is used whereby athletes are allocated a score and each team has a total point requirement for the team competing at one time. In some sports, athletes from a variety of disability groups compete together in a single event. In other sports, only athletes from a certain disability group can compete. Currently there are two models of classification: general; athletes are evaluated and assessed taking into account the type and degree of impairment; and sport specific; athletes are evaluated and assessed taking into account the specific tasks required in each sport.
I was fortunate to be a member of the USA Paralympic team. I helped manage the Olympic Village (specifically housing) and also worked as a sports dietitian. The USA team included 218 athletes competing across 28 sports and 120 staff. This large delegation was very equipment heavy. There were racing wheelchairs (beautiful long sleek designs), tennis wheelchairs (wheels canted out for quick turning movements), basketball wheelchairs (standard but a bit dinged up due to the rough nature of the sport!), and rugby wheelchairs (like creations from Mad Max, designed for serious smashing and banging).
The dining hall is not only a great place for eating, but also for people-watching. I see an athlete unwrap chopsticks and devour a large plate of pork and rice using only his foot (he has no arms). I literally see the blind leading the blind, two blind individuals lead by a visually impaired athlete who gets dinner for all three of them. I see wheelchair athletes with legs easily balancing the food tray but a single amputee in a wheelchair who cannot.
When the competition started Karen Daigle (sports dietitian at the USOC) and I went on a Beijing foodie experience. We went on a market tour and had a seasoning lesson which was offered in a historic hutong (narrow street) in downtown Beijing. We walked up to a local market where our teacher Yi took us section by section explaining the different foods and how they are traditionally prepared. The market had a variety of spices catering to tastes from all around China. Fish and eel were fresh (and still alive!)and meat was hung from the ceiling out in the open and unrefrigerated. There was an impressive array of noodles, rice, and fresh produce, along with soy and tofu products in every imaginable form. When the market tour had concluded, Yi brought us back to her home in the hutong to teach us about soy sauces, wines, vinegars and other spices.
The nutrition kiosk catered for athletes with food allergies and weight class needs. The dietitians there were not sports dietitians but they were very helpful and would ensure separate meals to be cooked as required. McDonalds, who were a major sponsor for the Paralympic and Olympic Games, was located off to the side of the dining hall (not centered in the middle which has been the case at previous Games). The athletes and staff however did enjoy the barrista services of McCafe as this was the only place for a "good" coffee. The Paralympic Games often suffers from left over foods from the Olympic Games but this was not the case in China. I enjoyed not having to cook for the lthree weeks, but I'm looking forward to not queueing for 500 meters whenever you are hungry!
Paralympic athlete of the week: Stuart Tripp, Paracycling hand-cyclist
Athlete’s favourite food: Allen's lollies
What was the best thing about seeing a sports dietitian?
A greater awareness of food types and portion sizing, improving performance whilst also meeting body composition requirements for the sport.
Pre-competion food: a sports gel
During competition food: sports gel/s, sports drink
After competition: Protein shake
Follow Stuart - the Aussies are coming!!
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