The Paralympic Games are a major international sport competition for disabled athletes that runs parallel to the Olympics and begins on August 24th.
West Springfield native Mike Prout is a three-time Paralympics swimmer and holds bronze and gold medals from the 2004 Games. Later this month, Prout will head to his fourth Paralympic Games – this time as a coach of the U.S. Paralympics Swimming Team.
He joined Zydalis Bauer to discuss his swimming career, the importance of the Paralympics, and what he’s looking forward to as a coach at this year’s Games.
Read the fill transcript:
Zydalis Bauer: The 2021 Olympics in Japan came to a close this week, and now the torch has passed to a new group of elite athletes: Paralympians. The Paralympic Games are a major international sport competition for disabled athletes that runs parallel to the Olympics and begins on August 24th.
West Springfield native Mike Prout is a three-time Paralympic swimmer and holds bronze and gold medals from the 2004 Games. Later this month, Prout will head to his fourth Paralympic Games, this time as a coach of the U.S. Paralympic Swimming team.
He joined me to discuss his swimming career, the importance of the Paralympics, and what he’s looking forward to as a coach at this year’s Games.
Michael Prout, U.S. Paralympics Swimming: So, the Paralympics has been going on since 1948, along with the Olympics, they’re parallel. So, the Olympics are able-bodied athletes and the Paralympics are physically disabled, visually impaired, or intellectually impaired athletes that are also competing at the highest level.
So, same rules apply as with the Olympics. You have to compete within the rules of sport, and there’s gold, silver and bronze medals. It’s in the same venues as the Olympics.
There’s usually about two to three week changeover time allowed between the two so that they can switch out all the Olympic signage with all the Paralympic signage and get all the volunteers and everybody in the host cities to be prepared. But otherwise, the Olympics, Paralympics are kind of the same — uh, two sides of the same coin.
Zydalis Bauer: You’re very familiar with the Paralympics yourself, having competed in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and London 2012, holding both gold and bronze medals.
How did your background in swimming begin?
Michael Prout: So, I started swimming on a team when I was about six years old, after I had had a hip surgery when I was five. The doctor had recommended swimming as a great, low impact sport.
So, I started swimming on a team when I was six, swam all my life on able-bodied swim teams. I didn’t know about the Paralympics until I was 16 and I started competing in meets at that point.
I also continued swimming able-body all throughout that period, including swimming at UMass Amherst before — eventually, after graduating college, I did move out to the Olympic Training Center to train for the London Games.
But grew up with the same experience as any able-bodied swimmer did on their club team, practicing just as I would otherwise. Being in a higher classification allowed me to do that a little bit easier than the athletes that are in a lower classification that are more severely disabled. But, I was able to do it and now we try and give opportunities for other athletes to kind of get those same experiences.
Zydalis Bauer: You were born with your disability and have endured multiple surgeries before winning your Olympic medals. You also own several American swimming records.
How has this sport impacted your life?
Michael Prout: Once I started doing it, I loved it and I loved the training when I was growing up. And now that I’m on the retired side, I have been coaching.
So, I coach a club team with able-bodied swimmers. I also run an adaptive swim program that has a swim team and swim lessons.
Through swimming, I was able to develop a lot of skills like self-discipline, time management, things like that, and being around the sport and the people that are in the sport has always been enjoyable for me.
And I think that’s why, after taking a little break from it, after I stopped competing, I was drawn back into the swimming world.
Zydalis Bauer: Speaking of coaching, you’re heading to Tokyo to be one of the coaches for the US Paralympic Swim team. Talk to me about that transition into coaching and what you enjoy most about it.
Michael Prout: Like I said, I’d taken a little bit of a break from the swimming world after I stopped competing, and then I’d been doing a little bit of coaching again back in 2016 around the Rio Paralympic trials meet, and realized that it was something that I missed and wanted to get back into.
So, I started coaching on the national team side, doing national and international competitions with them, and going to camps and clinics, as well as coaching more full-time.
And I think for them it makes it easier to connect with me knowing that I am also Paralympian and I’ve gone through the same things that they’ve either also gone through or going through now.
Zydalis Bauer: As a coach for swimmers with disabilities, having a disability yourself and you having swam with able-bodied swimmers, what difference does that make for these athletes rather than having an able-bodied coach?
Michael Prout: One of the big, big advantages is just that when we’ve done a couple of our clinics that we’ve done out at UMass Amherst, I’ve brought in coaches specifically based on some of the athletes’ disabilities.
And what we noticed was, that if there’s an athlete with, say, cerebral palsy, coaching athletes that also have to have CP, they’re able to understand what their bodies are able to do and not able to do, and kind of strengths and weaknesses a lot easier.
So, having that connection and just being able to think about how my body moves versus how somebody in a wheelchair’s body is able to move and having just a little bit extra information just internally from always having a disability and knowing how to — I’ve had to adapt, makes it a little bit easier to think about how that athlete would have to adapt.
Zydalis Bauer: This year, NBC Universal will be airing the first prime time broadcast in history of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games and will air a record 1,200 hours of coverage.
What does it mean for these athletes who do not get the same coverage as other Olympians to now receive this increase and represent their countries on an international stage?
Michael Prout: It means a lot. It’s certainly something that we’ve been fighting for and asking for for a long time.
In a lot of other countries, the Paralympics are as big — or sometimes bigger depending on the qualities of their teams — and we’ve been lagging behind a little bit in the US.
So now, I think with the help of streaming and the help of just more recognition and sponsors helping athletes get their names out there that we’re starting to catch back up to the rest of the world in terms of the coverage that will be allowed to have this time around.
And I think that it’s it’s amazing that people — more people will have access to to see the Paralympics this go-around, and it’ll only help to continue building the sport within the country.