Pair from Cape Cod Curling Club to compete in Sochi
FALMOUTH — Meghan Lino, of East Falmouth, traveled for 32 hours last year to the World Wheelchair Curling Championship in Sochi, Russia.
On Sunday, Lino will make the trip again.
The opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games in Sochi are Friday, March 7.
This time, she's going for the gold.
A member of the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team, Lino, 29, will be competing in the weeklong Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games starting Friday.
"I'm excited to go," Lino said. "I'm throwing my first stone in the Paralympics."
Lino was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder that "is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord and/or meninges," according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Complications from spina bifida can vary from minor to severe, including paralysis.
Lino has used a wheelchair since the first grade, when walking became difficult, she said.
In addition to physical complications, spina bifida can cause learning disabilities, but Lino said she did fine in school and had a lot of friends.
"She was always a happy kid," said Brenda Grinnell, Lino's mother. "She was like how she is now."
In 2004, Lino graduated from Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School with a focus in electronics.
Lino said her goals are "to be a good person and, now, to be in the Olympics."
Lino didn't know it at the time, but her journey to Sochi started in September 2009. Craig Bautz, the president of CAPEable Adventures, asked her to be part of a wheelchair curling team he was putting together for a charity tournament hosted by the Cape Cod Curling Club.
Although Lino had never curled before, she was a regular participant in sports programs offered by CAPEable Adventures.
"She just happened to love (curling) and love competing," Bautz said.
Bautz also invited Mashpee resident David Palmer, 53, to be part of the team.
After the charity tournament, Lino and Palmer were regulars at the curling club, and after about six months, a wheelchair curling team was formed.
"By the second year, they got serious about joining the national team," said Anthony Colacchio, who has been the coach of wheelchair curling at the club since 2008.
"I'm very fortunate they consider me part of the group," Colacchio said.
"You're not 'considered'; you are," Lino said.
Lino and Palmer were chosen for the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team in 2012 after tryouts in Madison, Wis.
"(Lino) is a very good team player," said Steve Brown, the USA wheelchair curling coach.
Brown, who evaluated and interviewed Lino during the tryouts, said she stood out because of her "commitment and dedication."
Lino is what is considered the team's "alternate," meaning she is eligible to substitute for one of her four teammates if necessary. But Brown wants Lino to play no matter what.
"Basically, we consider it a five-person team," Brown said. "We feel everybody deserves a chance to play."
Lino meets with her teammates — including Palmer; Patrick McDonald, of Madison, Wis.; Jimmy Joseph, of New Hartford, N.Y.; and Penny Greely, of Green Bay, Wis. — once a month for four days of training, and she trains six days a week at the curling club.
Lino said she feels ready for the games.
"I've seen the venue; I've seen the ice," Lino said.
In February 2013, Lino and the team traveled to Sochi for the World Wheelchair Curling Competition, where Team Canada took first place. Team USA came in fourth.
This time, Lino and her teammates will be attempting to take home the first medal in wheelchair curling for the U.S.
"I'm very optimistic," Brown said. "If I was going to Vegas, I'd be willing to put a little wager on it."
The opening ceremony is Friday and wheelchair curling starts March 8 with a series of round-robin sessions lasting through March 13. The semifinal and final games are March 15.
"We're feeling confident as a team, so we feel we have a good shot at winning a medal," Palmer said.
Although the Paralympic Winter Games have existed since 1976, wheelchair curling was not a part of the event until 2006.
As curling has become more popular, so has wheelchair curling, said Marc DePerno, the national director for outreach and development for U.S. wheelchair curling.
"I certainly believe the public has been intrigued by the opportunity for individuals with disabilities," DePerno said. "Seeing an athlete perform is captivating."
In September, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that NBC and NBCSN would air 50 hours of television coverage for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, an unprecedented amount of coverage.
For the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, there were 5½ hours of coverage, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"These are amazing individuals with amazing stories that need to be told," DePerno said.
The games will feature about 700 athletes from 45 countries competing in seven events, according to the Olympic Committee. Team USA will comprise 77 athletes competing in all of the sports.
"I wish I was going (to Sochi) to watch her," said Lino's father, Walter Lino. Lino and her father live together in East Falmouth.
"I always encouraged her to try new things and be independent," Walter Lino said, "and that's how she got into curling."
The support of her family has been instrumental in her success, Lino said.
"My family has always helped pushed me to do things that may not have been easy to do," Lino said, "but we've always figured out a way to adapt to make it possible for me."
Lino said this will be "the first of many" Paralympic Games she will compete in.
"Our club will be able to say we have Olympians on it," Colacchio said. "Medals aside, they come back Olympians."