This was originally published on Quora as Laura Hale’s Answer to Has a disabled athlete ever defeated a normal athlete in any sport? on January 16.
Having a disability should not be considered a sign of weakness, or an inability to compete fairly or at the highest level against athletes without them. This idea that people with disabilities cannot compete at the highest level is probably one of the most damaging stereotypes when it comes to growing disability sports, both in terms of participation but also in terms of broader marketability of disability sports.
Athletes with disabilities can and regularly do compete against athletes without in a wide variety of competitions in a number of sports including athletics, archery, shooting, basketball, judo, swimming, American football, sailing, MMA, table tennis, ice hockey to name just a few sports. Not only that, they can win, win often and win against the best the sport has to offer.
One of the most easily ignored groups of disability sport athletes are deaf athletes. While a number of them compete in the Deaflympics, it is often relatively easy for them to integrate into teams with non-hearing impaired athletes. There are lots of them. There are also large number of wheelchair athletes, as you do not need to stand to compete in some events like shooting or archery. There are lots of vision impaired athletes. In the case of sailing, some of the major events allow able-bodied athletes compete against sailors with disabilities regularly. The number is actually so large, and this happens so regularly that I will list only a few of the ones I know about.
Deaf Athletes who defeated non-hearing impaired athletes
MMA fight Matt Hamill is deaf. He has had at least 18 MMA matches, with 12 wins, 7 by knockout and 4 by decisions. People he beat include Tim Boetsch, Tito Ortiz, Keith Jardine, Jon Jones, Mark Muñoz, Reese Andy, Seth Petruzelli and Jesse Forbes.
Jim Kyte was the first, and to date only, deaf player in the National Hockey League. His career started in 1982 with the Winnipeg Jets. He went on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguis, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, Las Vegas Thunder, San Jose Sharks and Kansas City Blades as a professional hockey player. If his teams lost every game, his career would not have lasted as long as it did.
Miha Zupan was the first deaf person to play basketball in the Euroleague. The power forward has been playing professional basketball in Europe since 2000 and is still playing in 2016.
Terence Parkin is a South African swimmer who has competed at the 2005 Deaflympics and 2004 Summer Olympics. He competed at the 2000 FINA Short Course World Championships, winning silver in the 200 m breaststroke and another silver in the 400 m individual medley. He has a number of other medals from major international meets.
Vision Impaired athletes competing against non-vision impaired athletes
Marla Runyan is an American track and field competitor, long distance runner, marathoner and heptathlete. She is legally blind. She competed at 2 Paralympic Games, including 1992 and 1996 where she won a number of medals including 5 golds. She started out as a B3 classified runner, putting her in the class of VI athletes with the “greatest” vision, but as she aged, her sight got worse and she moved from shorter distance events to long distance events. She had a continual goal to compete against fully sighted athletes throughout her career. She tried to qualify for the Olympics in the heptathlon in 1996, but only finished 10th at the US Olympic Trials. She obviously beat some athletes to do so. In any case, she kept on trying. In 1999, she made the US team for the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where she won gold in the 1500 meters, beating Leah Pells of Canada and American Stephanie Best. She went on to make the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympic teams for the United States. The 2000 appearance came after a second place finish at the US trials.
Spanish Paralympic swimmer José Ramón Cantero Elvira also competes in able-bodied swimming events in Spain. He competed at the Campeonato de Madrid de Larga Distancia in 2015, and beat enough swimmers to qualify for Spain’s national championships. He is a B2 VI swimmer.
Myles Porter is an American vision impaired judoka. He is legally blind. He was the third legally blind athlete to compete at the Dallas Invitational Tournament, where, at the age of 20, he came away with a silver medal.
Athletes with physical disabilities competing against able-bodied athletes
Neroli Fairhall is probably one of New Zealand’s most well known Olympians and Paralympians. She was the first Paralympian to do so, and eight more would follow in her wheelchair tracks. Sadly, she passed away in 2006. She competed in both, in the sport of archery. She was paralyzed from the waist down following a motorbike accident. Competing at the 1972, 1980, 1988, and 2000 Paralympics, she won several gold medals. She competed at the 1984 Summer Olympics, missing out on the Paralympics to compete in them. Her most famous medal on the able-bodied side came at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
Melissa Tapper has Erb’s Palsy, which creates partial paralysis in one of her arms. A Class 10 table tennis player, she started playing on the able-bodied side of the sport. She made Australian able-bodied teams before she made the Australian Paralympic team. It was because the Australian Paralympic Committee approached her because thy saw her as an easy future medalists that she started competing in Para Table Tennis. She represented Australia at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and was part of the team that won bronze. She competed in the mixed doubles event where she and Heming Hu had a win against the Kenyan mixed doubles team before going out of the competition.
Bulgarian shooter and wheelchair user Sonia Vettenburg first competed at the 1984 Summer Paralympics, and then competed against at the 1988 Paralympics. In 1992, she competed in the Olympics. In the women’s 10 meter air pistol, she finished 42nd in a 47 deep field.
Italian wheelchair user and archer Paola Fantato has 5 Paralympic gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. In 1996, she competed at both the Olympics and Paralympics in what I can only imagine as complete insanity, made worse by a really awful Atlanta organizing committee that cost the US at least one later Olympic bid. In the Olympics, as a 36 year old, she finished ninth in the team event and 54th in the individual event.
Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka has competed at four Paralympic Games and two Olympic Games. Competing at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the same year is nothing short of madness, but she did it in 2008 and 2012. In 2008 Olympics, she finished 9th in the team event and had 5 total wins. In the 2012 Olympics, she finished 17th in the women’s singles and 9th in the women’s team. In the London individual event, she had 4 total game wins.
South African Natalie du Toit as a leg amputation, and competed at three Paralympic Games. She also competed at the 2008 Summer Paralympics. She was the third amputee to qualify for the Olympics, and was one of two athletes to compete at the 2008 Olympic Games that also competed at the Paralympic Games. She was also the first athlete to carry a flag in both Olympics and Paralympics in the same Olympic/Paralympic cycle. Her Beijing event was the women’s marathon 10 kilometre, where she finished 16th in a twenty-five deep field. She beat American Chloe Sutton and Ukrainian Nataliya Samorodina.
Montenegrin class 10 table tennis player Filip Radović also competed against able-bodied table tennis players. He represented his country at the competed at the 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships, where he was one of the youngest competitors. You don’t get there without regular wins against able-bodied competitors.
JaQue Billingsley is an international American wheelchair powerlifter and was a junior wheelchair basketball player. He was also a star athlete on his high school football team who went on to play football on the junior college level. His high school team won a number of games with him on the team.
Mixed disability – able-bodied sporting events
In some places and in some sports, able-bodied competitors compete alongside their disability athlete competitors. In wheelchair basketball, able-bodied competitors are 5 point players. While they are not allowed compete internationally by IWBF rule, they do compete in some national competitions From what I have heard, it seems like half the province teams at the Canadian national championships are 5 point players. In Australia, some goalball teams have fully sighted players. Put a blind fold on them, and they are good to go. In wheelchair dancing, there are some disciplines where one person is in a wheelchair and one person is standing. You could argue that they are beating wheelchair users when any team wins.
Those are just a few of the many sportspeople who have proven that disabled does not mean unable. Many of these athletes regularly compete without much fanfare against able-bodied competitors on a daily basis in sports where they get no accommodation. They are awesome. If you get the chance to ever see any of them in action, I highly recommend it.