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Paralympic Equestrians Catch Gold Fever as They Saddle Up for the Ride of a Lifetime

by Sarah Lane | Sep 17, 2004, 12:00 PM

ATHENS, GREECE— As U.S. equestrians, already medal-adorned from the Olympics, hang up their proverbial tack for another four years, a new team swiftly takes the ring, anxious for their turn at the spotlight in the city of ancient Olympic glory. Along with athletes from 141 countries, Paralympic riders from the United States will make their debut at Athens’ Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony Friday—setting out to replace hearts full of hope with medals of gold. The four riders and their trusted equine partners are among more than 200 athletes representing the United States at the 2004 Paralympic Games.

Competing exclusively in dressage, the four U.S. pairs saddling up for competition include Barbara Grassmyer and Mibis, Kathryn Groves and Fleetwood, Keith Newerla and Lumberjack, and Lynn Seidemann and Phoenix B. These athletes are not only champions in spirit, they also have trophy cases full of credentials to back up their abilities—everything from titles at the National Disability Sports Alliance Championships to a current World Champion. In a historic change of procedure, the athletes will be riding their own horses during the Games—eager steady mounts who skillfully execute their art with athletic prowess. During the 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Games, athletes rode borrowed horses, selected by random draw.

As our athletes get ready to enter the ring, representing us all, we salute them for their efforts, and take a look back at the hard work that helped lead them on their journey to Athens.

Barbara Grassmyer and Mibis: Claiming Placerville, NY as home, this 20-year veteran of equestrian sport carries both the 2001 and 2002 NDSA Championship titles. This isn’t the first time Grassmyer has been bitten by the Olympic bug though; she served as the U.S. team’s first alternate for the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. Born with a congential birth defect called Apert’s Syndrome, Grassmyer will be competing in Grade III, with Mibis beneath the saddle—a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. She is a graduate of Feather River College.

Kathryn Groves and Fleetwood: Leaving her home in Winter Garden, FL for this window of Olympic opportunity, this Grade IV competitor is a proud mother of one and owns a dressage training facility where she works and rides. Groves first picked up the reins around seven years ago as an alternative to the physical therapy she needed for an accident that resulted in the loss of her right arm below the elbow. Groves most recently became Reserve Champion at the 2004 NDSA Championship. She’ll be riding Fleetwood, a Dutch Warmblood gelding.

Keith Newerla and Lumberjack: At 21, Newerla is the youngest member of the equestrian team. Living with Cerebral Palsy since birth, this broadcast journalism student from the Minnesota State University-Moorhead has been around horses his whole life. Hailing from Long Island, NY, Newerla learned the riding fundamentals from Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, a therapeutic riding center in his home state. A versatile athlete, he also plays wheelchair rugby and basketball, and hikes. His most recent string of honors includes the distinction of Grand Champion at the 2004 Paralympic Selection Trials. During the 2004 Paralympic Games, he’ll ride in Grade I-B, atop Lumberjack, a Dutch Warmblood.

Lynn Seidemann and Phoenix B: This pair currently claims the title of World Champion in individual dressage for Grade I and will continue to their partnership as they work for a Paralympic victory. A paraplegic since a snow skiing accident 20 years ago, Seidemann added riding to her regimen to build strength and challenge herself. This isn’t the first time the manufacturing engineer has been to the Paralympics as a competitor—Seidemann took 9th in her dressage class during the 2000 Paralympic Games in Syndey. During these Games, she’ll be riding Phoenix B, a Polish Warmblood.

The 2004 Paralympic Games will begin on Saturday, September 17, with equestrian competition starting on Tuesday, September 21. Check back for more updates from the 2004 U.S. Paralympic Equestrian Team.