Niko Von Glasow
Born with severely shortened arms after his mother took thalidomide (a drug that was commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s to treat nausea in pregnant women, but was later discovered to cause birth defects) while pregnant with him, Niko von Glasow started his filmmaking career making coffee for German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He went on to study film at New York University and the Lodz Film School in Poland. In NoBody’s Perfect (2008), he convinced 11 other people born with disabilities from thalidomide to pose for a nude calendar. The film won the German Film Award for Best Documentary, brought him worldwide recognition and helped fuel a successful campaign to increase compensation for the 2,700 surviving victims of thalidomide in Germany. Von Glasow also holds talks and workshops on screenwriting and directing worldwide. His distaste for athletics is rooted in his frustrations as a disabled child forced to play sports. With My Way To Olympia, von Glasow sets out to discover the motivations of Paralympic athletes and challenge his own.
Aida Dahlen: Table Tennis
Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina shortly before the Bosnian War broke out in 1992, Aida Dahlen was adopted by a Norwegian family at the age of 6. Dahlen was born without a left forearm and with a left leg amputated at the knee. As a teenager, Dahlen struggled with sports that involved a lot of running, such as soccer and handball, so a friend suggested she try table tennis. This suggestion would lead her all the way to the Paralympic Summer Games in London in 2012. Dahlen trains alongside able-bodied athletes in her home country upwards of 30 hours per week. She is also studying for a degree at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.
Grigoris “Greg” Polychronidis: Boccia
Greek boccia player Grigoris “Greg” Polychronidis is ranked fourth in the world. Boccia is one of the few Paralympic sports with no counterpart in the Olympics. It was originally designed for athletes with cerebral palsy, but is now played by those with other disabilities affecting motor skills. Polychronidis has spinal muscular atrophy, which causes muscle damage and weakness that worsens over time. Able to walk and use his arms as a child, he now uses a motorized scooter and has limited movement. He lives in Athens, Greece, where he works as an accountant in the Hellenic Court of Audit and is active in the international boccia community.
Rwandan Sitting Volleyball Team
Not only is the Rwandan Sitting Volleyball Team the best team in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has also captured international attention with its story of reconciliation. Team members include men from the both the Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities who lost their feet and legs during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Members see the team, which unites the two historically divided and feuding groups, as representative of Rwanda’s future.
Matt Stutzman: Archery
“Archery can be used as a rehabilitation tool, it can make people feel normal again,” says American archer Matt Stutzman. “Because of archery, I can support my family and pay the bills. It makes me feel good as a father and a husband.”
Stutzman was born without arms and adopted by a family from Kansas at the age of 18 months. He has made his career in the sport of archery, calling himself the “armless archer.” He was a member of the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team in 2012, when he won the Silver Medal. He currently holds the world record for longest accurate shot in history, hitting a target from 230 yards away. At a young age, Stutzman learned to do many things with his feet, including feeding himself, writing and riding a bike. Stutzman even holds a driver’s license. (He operates a vehicle with his feet.) After feeling left out when he watched his brothers go hunting, Stutzman taught himself to shoot a gun and operate a bow and arrow with his feet. Stutzman’s impressive skill and one-of-a-kind technique have made him a fan favorite. He lives with his wife and three sons in Iowa.