Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images for the Women’s Sports Foundation
Becca Meyers, a swimmer considered the favorite to bring home gold from Tokyo, canceled plans to compete in the Paralympic Games after being told she couldn’t bring a personal care assistant to Japan. Meyers is deaf and blind. U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials say they have no space for her to provide assistance, due to coronavirus restrictions on sports delegations.
“I had to make the heartbreaking decision to withdraw from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games,” Meyers said Tuesday in a statement posted on his Facebook page. “I am angry, I am disappointed, but most of all, I am sad that I am not representing my country.”
Meyers, 26, said officials failed to consider his needs and those of other athletes. She won three gold medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, but the experience also deeply rocked her. In a strange new environment, she struggled to complete essential tasks on her own, such as finding the athletes’ dining hall.
Since then, her mother, Maria, has accompanied her daughter during competitions as a care assistant. But after learning that her mother couldn’t join her in Tokyo, Meyers withdrew.
“I would love to go to Tokyo,” Meyers told the Washington Post, which first reported his withdrawal. “Swimming gave me my identity as a person. I’ve always been Becca the swimmer. I didn’t take it lightly. It was very difficult for me. [But] I need to say something to make a change because it can’t go on any longer. “
There were all signs that Meyers would have a special performance in Tokyo. She has set new world records in recent years. Last month, she celebrated her dominance at the Paralympic Trials, where she secured a spot on the US team. Tokyo was to be its third Paralympic Games.
Meyers flourished at the elite level of the sport despite being born with Usher syndrome. Due to the genetic disease, she is deaf (and is helped by cochlear implants). She often relies on lip reading, but her eyesight continues to deteriorate – and because everyone in Tokyo will be wearing face masks, her ability to understand others would be hampered.
Rick Adams, head of sports performance for the USOPC and national governing body services, told the Meyers that while he sympathizes with them, Tokyo organizers have limited delegations to athletes and essential staff.
The USOPC told Meyers that the 34 athletes on the Paralympic swim team would be supported by a dedicated personal care assistant, or PCA, as well as six coaches. Almost a third of swimmers are visually impaired, according to Meyers.
The Meyers family say the situation is untenable and must change. They also believe the USOPC has maintained its position to avoid a rush of athletes attempting to add their own PCAs to the delegation.
Meyers, who lives in a suburb between Baltimore and Washington, DC, trained with the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which launched the Olympic careers of stars such as Katie Ledecky and Tom Dolan. There, Meyers trained under the direction of famous trainer Bruce Gemmel.
“Your heart is breaking for her,” Gemmell told the To post. “It seems to me that if we focus on the athletes first, which it should be, but it’s not always the case – if the athletes are what we do first, then we as than USOPC, we have to do better. We have to do better. “
The Tokyo Paralympic Games will start on August 24 and end on September 5.