Left to right: Tony Volpentest, Ross Perot, Bryan Hoddle, Larry Weber
it takes a few decades to understand the impacts of significant events in life.
You don’t understand or see the effects of the story God is writing at the
time. Think back to your life experiences to a positive event whose impact you
didn’t fully realize at the time.
You look back with a sense of awe and amazement. Hopefully, with wisdom, you realize how you participated in the story but know whose hand ultimately wrote the story you were involved with at the time.
You think there is no way you did everything on your own in the positive, life-changing story. You sense the hand of our creator and give the credit and, ultimately, the glory to God for being a part of something much bigger than yourself than the role you played.
The 1996 Paralympic Track and Field Games in Atlanta were one such event in the lives of myself and a few friends. Much happened leading up to the games that helped to create a watershed moment in helping disabled athletes and disabled veterans in America and throughout the world.
With a core group of amazing people, we witnessed history unfolding together before our eyes, yet you could not have told us so then.
The 1996 Games served as a springboard to many social and cultural changes that helped change how disabled athletes and soldiers were supported.
I summarize below some incredible events during the mid and late 1990s through the lens of faith that happened to our team.
Partnership Is Born
My lifetime friend Bryan Hoddle and I partnered with Presidential Candidate and Businessman Ross Perot to help Paralympian Tony Volpentest become the fastest and first professional double amputee disabled athlete worldwide.
The goal was to help Tony and open the doors for Paralympians to become full-time professional athletes.
Much more, though, came out of this goal than we ever knew at the time.
We formed a team to help Tony not only win the World Paralympic Games, but we also worked hard behind the scenes to help Tony become the first full-time Professional Paralympian Athlete who could make his living from running just like any other professional athlete in other sports.
No such profession existed for Paralympic Track and Field Sprinting Athletes at the time.
Mr. Perot served as our mentor to help break down barriers nationally and worldwide for Paralympic Athletes; Bryan served as Tony’s coach to prepare him for the Paralympic Games at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. I was in charge of marketing to help find a way for Paralympic Athletes to become full-time professional athletes through a company I created with my wife Julie called Physically Able Sports.
The company exclusively represented disabled athletes who wanted to become full-time professional athletes. The business model of only helping disabled athletes become professional athletes was the first in the world.
Together, we all set out to change how Disabled athletes were perceived in the U.S. and worldwide with nothing more than a piece of paper full of ideas that we put together pretty quickly.
With the development of a quick strategic plan, we ran our own sprint to help disabled and Paralympic Athletes.
Man Plans His Ways, and The Lord Directs His Steps
Many of the outcomes of “our plan” were improved, I believe, by “His plan.”
We can never take credit for what we saw unfold from 1995 onward when we all started working with Tony. Many good things happened in our journey that we could have never anticipated or done alone. The Lord truly blessed us in unfathomable ways.
Only some things went smoothly, however. We had a close call that almost ended Tony's Paralympic dream. Had Tony not won the Paralympic Games in 1996, the improvements for disabled athletes and veterans would likely look quite different today.
International Stardom For Tony Changed The Direction Of The Paralympic Movement In 1996
Tony was catapulted to International stardom in 1996 when he won two Gold medals and set a world record in the 100 meters.
Tony also won the Paralympic Games in 1992, but there needed to be more media attention and understating about the Paralympic Games in America and worldwide at that point in history. The general public was unaware of the Paralympic Games and the incredible abilities of disabled athletes due to the lack of media coverage and other forms of sports marketing.
CBS was the first network in America to provide coverage of the Paralympic Games in 1996. We worked closely with CBS to provide coverage of the marquee athlete of the games, Tony Volpentest.
CBS and others did a fantastic job of covering Tony as we all worked hard with the press and others to show the incredible God-given potential of Paralympic Athletes on and off the track.
However, Tony nearly missed the starting line in 1996.
Tony’s coach, Bryan Hoddle, had a gut feeling while Tony was preparing for the 100 meters a couple of days before Atlanta that Tony’s prosthetics would not hold up in a race after seeing dust on his socks. Bryan somehow knew something was wrong.
Mr. Perot made an emergency call to Tony’s prosthetist for us to Nova Care-Sabolich Prosthetics in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Prosthetist who flew to Atlanta said Tony’s legs would have blown apart when Tony hit his top speed at 60 meters if his prosthetic legs were not fixed. Those were the exact words of Tony’s Prosthetist, which confirmed Bryan’s gut feeling that Tony’s legs would break under the pressure of a Paralympic final.
Tony’s prosthetist worked feverishly to create a new set of prosthetic legs that would hold up on race day. Thankfully, he got everything done in the nick of time, just before Tony's race in the 100 meters started.
Tony won the 100-meter race with his God-given talent and hard work. After all those last-minute changes to his prosthetic legs, he set a world record and won the 200-meters at the games.
Bryan’s gut instinct was correct about Tony's prosthetic issues. I believe that primarily because of Bryan’s faith, he had the knowledge and wisdom to know that something was not quite right with Tony’s situation.
All wisdom comes from the Lord.
If Bryan had not listened to his gut that day, the international stardom that Tony attained and still enjoys never would have happened.
Neither would have the other culture-changing events that I will share regarding the Paralympic Movement or the significant improvements to the lives of disabled athletes and veterans.
Tony’s victory in 1996 was what is called a moment of truth. A moment of truth has a transformational impact on the future.
Here is a summary of events from the 1996 Paralympic Games that forever changed the landscape of the Paralympic Movement, disabled sports, and how disabled veterans' lives were impacted after the 1996 games.
Tony's 1996 Atlanta Run Helped Opened The Door For Professional Paralympic Athletes
After Atlanta, Tony became the most recognized Paralympic Athlete in the world. He became the first full-time professional Paralympic Sprinter in History meaning he was paid to run full-time.
Tony's accomplishment in Atlanta opened the door for other Paralympic Athletes to follow.
Bryan Hoddle Became The Soldiers Coach
After Atlanta, Mr. Perot sent the video of Tony winning gold and setting a world record nationwide to give disabled veterans hope.
This gave Coach Hoddle the platform to work extensively with injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Hospital in Washington, DC, the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, Texas, and across other parts of the nation helping amputees, those with traumatic brain injuries, and blind and wheelchair soldiers.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Is Now The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC)
While Tony’s gold medals, world records, and post-1996 races and media coverage did not solely make this happen, his performances and media attention in 1996 and the late 1990s helped usher in significant changes to disabled sports in America and worldwide.
Few people had heard of the Paralympics until the 1996 games.
The 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta spread more knowledge about the Paralympics when hosted in America. The media coverage of Tony as the marquee athlete of the games was the springboard the Paralympic Movement needed.
Twenty-five years later, NBC hosted roughly 1200 hours of Paralympic coverage in 2021 in Tokyo! There is now parity in the money Paralympic Athletes win compared to Olympic athletes.
The One-To-One Challenge Opened The Doors For Paralympic Athletes To Compete At Able-Bodied Competitions
The two fastest non-disabled sprinters in the world, Olympic Gold medal winners Michael Johnson and Donavan Bailey, ran a race against each other in the Toronto Skydome in a millionaire-dollar winner take all race after the 1996 Paralympic Games.
Other Olympic champions like Jackie Joyner-Kersee also competed against their main competition.
I set up the first-ever Paralympic one-to-one challenge through race director Giselle Briden between Tony and his main competitor Neil Fuller from Australia at the Skydome. This event set the stage for disabled athletes to compete at other major able-bodied track and field meets.
Coach Hoddle And His Wife Sherri Reach A Life-Long Dream
Working with Tony in 1996 helped provide the Hoddle family with the financial resources to adopt their son Steven.
Bryan and Sherri were able to adopt their now-grown son Steven as an infant.
The Take Away
It is unlikely that the blessings and accomplishments mentioned above would have happened if Bryan had ignored his gut feeling on that faith-filled day in 1996.
It is incredible how one small choice can change your destiny.
Listening to our gut, or what some call their intuition, is super important in life. Proverbs 16:9 says, "The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”
I am glad wisdom prevailed in that fate-changing race back in 1996. The Lord was guiding our steps in Atlanta for sure.
Who would have thought sand in a sock mattered?
Someone much wiser than us, of course!
Tony's historic 1996 race is captured here if you are interested: Tony's
1996 Historic Run.
Copyright 2023 World Wide.
Physically Able Sports, our company, acquired publishing rights to the video above in 1996 from CBS. Since that time, it has been reproduced multiple times by others on the Internet in various forms.
The cover of Tony's book at Amazon.com. Tony's incredible talent and his Paralympic victories have inspired multiple generations. Tony was blessed with a fantastic family and support system. We saw their love for Tony up close during our Paralympic years with Tony.
Coach Bryan Hoddle is Known as the "Soldiers Coach." This would never have happened without the incredible events of 1996.
Ross Perot and Larry Weber are promoting the Paralympics at a press conference at the Paralympic Games. Many meetings took place behind the scenes to find ways to promote the Paralympic Movement by showing the incredible abilities and inspiration of disabled athletes.
Physically Able Sports was the first company to represent and secure professional contracts for disabled athletes exclusively.