The 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games will be contested from Aug. 24 - Sept 5, 2021, broadcast on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, and streamed live and on-demand on NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and on Peacock.
Before you tune in to watch, here's a look at a few Team USA Paralympic standouts that we think you should get to know a little bit better.
Allysa Seely, Triathlon
Seely enters Tokyo as the 2016 Rio Paralympic gold medalist in para-triathlon. In 2010, she was diagnosed with Chiari II Malformation, basilar invagination, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects her brain, spine and connective tissues. In 2013 she had her left leg amputated below the knee due to increased spasticity in her foot. A six-time world medalist, Seely became involved in the sport as a New Year's tradition to try something she had never done before. She learned about triathlon while she was a student at Arizona State University and signed up for her first race in September 2008. After the race she decided to join the school's club triathlon team. Seely was already a nationally ranked triathlete prior to her 2010 diagnosis. She made her debut as an elite paratriathlete in 2012 and earned bronze at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships that same year.
Anastasia Pagonis, Swimming
Fully sighted until she was 9, Pagonis began having trouble seeing small fonts among other slight changes in vision. At 11 she began to gradually lose her sight to Stargardt disease. Originally a soccer player, her doctor encouraged her to try a "less contact" support and suggested swimming which eventually became her "happy place." At 14 years old her vision "completely blew" leaving her with only light visual perception after an additional diagnosis of autoimmune retinopathy. Pagonis struggled with her condition and for a time gave up swimming altogether.
With the support of family, Pagonis eventually received the help she needed and decided to get back into the pool. On her first jump in she "smashed right into the lane line." Wanting to feel the freeing experience of swimming again, she eventually joined Islanders Aquatics on Long Island, NY, and Coach Marc Danin, whom she credits as a lifesaver. In August 2020 she was paired with the NHL’s New York Islanders’ Puppy with a Purpose guide dog Radar, whom she lovingly calls her "eyes." In training for the Paralympics, Pagonis moved from her native Long Island to Colorado Springs, CO to train at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. In June 2021 she qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, where she'll make her Paralympic debut.
Brad Snyder, Triathlon
Snyder is a retired US Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. On Sept. 7, 2011, he was blinded after stepping on an improvised explosive device. The bomb did not affect his arms or legs, but his eyes had to be removed and replaced with prosthetics. Exactly one year later, Snyder claimed gold in the men's S11 400m freestyle at the 2012 Paralympic Games, leaving London with a total of three medals (two gold, one silver). Four years later, Snyder won four Paralympic medals (three gold, one silver) in Rio. The seven-time Paralympic medalist has new goals for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics though, chasing a medal in paratriathlon after switching to the sport in 2018.
Chuck Aoki, Wheelchair Rugby
Aoki, one of the world's premier wheelchair rugby players, is seeking to win the gold medal that eluded his team in 2012 and 2016. Aoki was born with a rare genetic disorder that inhibited feeling in his hands and feet. He grew up playing wheelchair basketball, but in high school he switched to wheelchair rugby after watching the seminal documentary "Murderball," which captured the bone-rattling intensity of quadriplegic rugby. Three years after making the national team, Aoki led the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympics. Two years later, he was named the tournament's best player at the 2014 World Championships. In 2016, he helped the U.S. to a silver medal at the Rio Paralympics. During his first-ever game, a burly opponent knocked the 5' 2", 155-pound Aoki into nearby bleachers, flipping him onto his head. Naturally, Aoki said, "I decided it was the sport for me."
David Brown, Track & Field
Paralympic veteran Brown is known as the "fastest blind man in the world." In 2014, he broke the men's 100m world record in the T11 classification (for athletes who are completely blind) -- a record that he still holds entering the Tokyo Paralympic Games. At the Rio Paralympics, he won gold in the 100m (T11) with his guide Jerome Avery. The duo refers to themselves as "Team BrAvery." The Missouri native says he was inspired to compete at the Paralympics after winning an essay contest to attend the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
Hunter Woodhall, Track & Field
Hunter Woodhall won two Paralympic medals in Rio and set the Utah state record in the 400m and 4x400m relay all before graduating high school. Woodhall was born with fibular hemimelia, a condition that stops lower limbs from developing properly. He had his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months old. Woodhall is also a four-time World Championship medalist, who competes in the T62 classification for athletes with bilateral below-the-knee amputations.
Jessica Long, Swimming
A four-time Paralympian, Jessica Long has won 23 Paralympic medals, 13 of them gold, making her the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian of all time. Born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, which caused her to be born without fibulas, ankles, heels and most bones in her feet, she was given up for adoption by her biological parents and adopted by an American family when she was 13 months old. Five months later, her lower legs were amputated so that she could learn to walk on prosthetic legs. Long says she pretended she was a mermaid while underwater and notes that she was always the first one in and last one out of the pool.
Long began swimming competitively when she was 10 years old and made her Paralympic debut two years later at the 2004 Athens Games. At 12 years old, she was the youngest member of the U.S. team. Long is an influential member of the swimming community and has spearheaded the conversation around the issue of Paralympic swimming classification, advocating for a more fair sport that better serves its competitors.
McKenzie Coan, Swimming
Four years after making her Paralympic debut in London, McKenzie Coan won four medals (three gold, one silver) at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. When she was just 19 days old, the Georgia native was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease). She has broken nearly 100 bones and as a result has needed numerous surgeries to insert metal rods into her legs. The two-time Paralympian graduated from Loyola University Maryland in 2018 with a degree in Political Science.
Melissa Stockwell, Triathlon
After graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Stockwell enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. As a platoon leader, she led convoys and spent a lot of time on the road. She was in Iraq for three weeks when her vehicle hit a roadside bomb, causing her to lose her left leg above the knee. She was medically retired from the Army in April 2005 and is a recipient of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. When she learned about the Paralympics, Stockwell was immediately compelled by the idea of representing her country again. The Army veteran first competed at the Paralympics in 2008 as a swimmer where she was chosen to be a flag bearer at the closing ceremony. Four years later, at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Stockwell made the transition to Paratriathlon and won the bronze medal.
Nicky Nieves, Sitting Volleyball
Nieves, a native of Queens, NY, won gold as part of the U.S. sitting volleyball team in Rio. Nieves has been missing her left hand since birth -- doctors think the umbilical cord may have wrapped around her hand causing the malformation -- but small fingers have grown in place of her wrist. She got her start in sitting volleyball when she was noticed by the U.S. sitting volleyball coach while playing for the Division II indoor volleyball team at Queens College. Nieves has since founded the Limitless People Inc. non-profit to bring volleyball to all types of people, regardless of money, race, physical ability and gender.
Oksana Masters, Cycling
An eight-time Paralympic medalist, Oksana Masters has excelled in both winter and summer sports, winning five medals in PyeongChang and two in Sochi in Nordic skiing, and a bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympics as a rower. Born in Ukraine with a set of birth defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Masters bounced between orphanages for seven years until she was adopted by a single mother. The multi-talented Masters made the switch to hand cycling ahead of the 2016 Rio Paralympics, she finished just shy of the podium, placing fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. Masters will be looking to reach the cycling podium at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Steve Serio, Wheelchair Basketball
The three-time Paralympian Serio won gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games as part of the U.S. wheelchair basketball team after winning bronze at the 2012 London Paralympics four years prior. A four-time world medalist and New York native, Serio was diagnosed with a spinal tumor as an infant. He had surgery to remove it, which resulted in him becoming partially paralyzed. He began playing wheelchair basketball at the age of 15 and made his national team debut two years later. Serio was also the recipient of the ESPY Award for "Best Male Athlete with a Disability" in 2017, the first wheelchair basketball player to win this award.
Tatyana McFadden, Track & Field
31-year-old Tatyana McFadden is a five-time Paralympian. She has won 17 Paralympic medals, including six at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. In 2013, she became the first athlete to complete the "grand slam" of marathons, winning the wheelchair division of the London, Boston, Chicago, and New York Marathons -- and she repeated the feat in 2014, 2015, and 2016. McFadden was paralyzed from the waist down at birth due to spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal column fails to close. She spent the first six years of her life in a destitute Russian orphanage, which couldn't provide McFadden with a wheelchair. She taught herself to walk on her hands to keep pace with the other kids. She was adopted by her mom Deborah and moved to the United States. In May 2016, she co-authored a children's book "Yo Sama! Moments from my Life," and in 2017 was named to Forbes' "30 Under 30 - Sports" list alongside Simone Biles and Chloe Kim.
NBC Olympics Research contributed to this story