By BRIAN WITTE
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s governor honored deaf and blind swimmer Becca Meyers on Monday for courage in championing the disabled, after the three-time gold medalist withdrew from the Paralympics in Tokyo when told her mother couldn’t travel to the games as her personal care assistant.
Gov. Larry Hogan presented a citation to Meyers during a news conference commemorating the 31st anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act. The certificate honored her “bravery for highlighting the issue of inequality and access for people with disabilities.”
Hogan also signed an executive order declaring that Maryland will annually celebrate July as Disability Culture and Achievements Month.
“Becca deserved to be able to compete, and while we’re all so disappointed for her, I got the chance to tell her just a moment before this started that I’m unbelievably proud of her for having the courage to speak up and to speak out about this injustice,” Hogan said.
Meyers, 26, said the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee had approved her mother to act as her assistant at all international meets since 2017 but the committee said her request to bring her mother this time was denied due to restrictions put in place by the Japanese government due to COVID-19. Meyers said she made the decision to withdraw to stand up for future Paralympic athletes, saying she didn’t want them to have to experience what she’s been through.
“I hope to work with others to effect change so that no one ever feels afraid to travel with Team USA,” Meyers said.
Hogan said he told Meyers before Monday’s news conference that while he was proud of her for being a gold-medal winner, he was even more proud of her speaking up to set an example for younger athletes. The governor criticized the decision not to allow her mother to travel to the games.
“There’s a whole lot of problems with this Olympics, but that was probably the one that stood out the most with me,” Hogan said.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, or USOPC, said that because of the pandemic, there are increased restrictions on delegation size at the Tokyo Games, which left the federation only one slot for a personal care assistant who will have to assist 34 Paralympic swimmers. The PCA has more than 27 years of coaching experience and 11 years with para swimmers, the USOPC said.
“The decisions we’ve made on behalf of the team have not been easy, and we are heartbroken for athletes who are unable to have their previous support resources available,” the USOPC said. “We are confident in the level of support we will offer Team USA and look forward to providing them a positive athlete experience even in the most unprecedented times.”
At the 2016 Rio Paralympic games, Meyers said she experienced emotional and physical trauma from not being able to navigate on her own throughout the Olympic village.
“I need that reasonable and essential accommodation to then be able to perform to the best of my ability on the world stage,” Meyers told reporters after Hogan presented her with a certificate.