The 2016 Olympics may be over, but there are still plenty of medals to be handed out in Rio.
And Caro resident Scot Severn hopes to win one.
Severn, 48, is leaving Sunday for the Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where the veteran para-athlete will try and pick up his second medal. Severn will eat in the same cafeteria and frequent the same facilities where U.S. Olympians, like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Kevin Durant, toiled just a couple of weeks before.
“It’s pretty cool to be there, it’s basically the same experience that the Olympians have,” Severn said. “We have opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies, use all the same venues — it’s pretty awesome.”
This will be Severn’s third Games as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team, having competed in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. He came home with some hardware in 2012, winning a bronze medal in his best event — the shot put. In his professional athletic career, Severn has thrown shot, discus and javelin (he took eighth in the javelin and ninth in the discus toss in London in addition to taking third in the shot), but this year the married father of three is focusing all of his energy on the shot put.
“This year I kind of slowed down a little bit,” Severn said, adding that he cut back on how many competitions he’s entered as well. “I just went to a competition out in Arizona, one at Saginaw Valley (State University) and the (Olympic Trials, held June 30 through July 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina).
“It’s less than what it used to be, I used to be gone, probably 5-6 years ago, I was gone for about three months out of the year. Now it’s closer to a month and a half or two months.”
Severn grew up in Unionville, and was a 1986 graduate of Unionville-Sebewaing Area High School. While on duty as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves at Camp Grayling in August, 1989, Severn was struck by lightning, leaving him with external and internal injuries. The accident left Severn paralyzed from the waist down.
“I don’t have full function of my hands, very little function in my trunk and no function in my legs,” Severn said. “I compete against guys that have similar disabilities, so I don’t have to go up against someone that has use of their trunk and some use of their legs.”
Severn did not play sports at USA High School, and didn’t begin participating in wheelchair athletics until in his mid-30s. But once he got going, there was no holding him back. Severn never dreamed he would end up competing against world-class athletes, but he didn’t get here by accident — it’s taken rivers of sweat and thousands of hours of training.
“I started getting involved around 2003, I think,” Severn said. “A guy from North Branch kind of sunk in his claws and got on me about ‘you gotta try this, you gotta try that, and everything else.’ At the same time I had a group from Bay City getting on me about playing wheelchair rugby.
“I found out I was good at some of the stuff.”
Until then, Severn’s sport of choice was bowling — which is much different than the brutal physicality that can be seen in the sport of wheelchair rugby. Severn embraced his new penchant for athletics, and became one of the nation’s finest Paralympian throwers.
Severn works out four to five times a week at State Street Fitness, 160 State St. in Caro, and practices throwing, in his backyard, every day. Severn used to train alone, but now, has a pair of workout partners — sons Kyle and Colton.
“My boys have been coming up (to State Street Fitness) with me for the last year-and-a-half or so,” Severn said. “I have to guide them through some stuff, they can pretty much do it on their own now, but I still kick them in the butt a little bit and make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Kyle and Colton, a 15-year-old sophomore and 14-year-old freshman, respectively, are both on the Caro High School junior varsity football team. A third child, Nicole Severn, is a senior at Caro where she participates in bowling and tennis. Severn married his wife, Brenda, in 1994.
Having three high school-age children participating in sports is one of the reasons Severn cut back on his competition schedule.
But he won’t be holding back when he gets to Rio.
Severn has an extensive track and field resume, both in the U.S. and internationally. In 2008, Severn won gold medals in the shot put, discus and javelin in his class at the U.S. Paralympic National Championship. At the same competition in 2012, he won gold in the discus and silver in both the shot and javelin. Last year, Severn took home a silver medal in the shot put at the IPC World Championship.
The Rio Olympics was the first held in South America. News, mostly of the negative variety, on the host city was making headlines long before the Games began on Aug. 5. Crime, poor sanitation and the Zika virus had athletes, and spectators, worried about the safety of the 2016 Olympics. Those issues are still a concern for the Paralympic Games, which begin on Sept. 7 and end on Sept. 18.
“I’m not really worried about it, I’ll probably just stay in the (Olympic) village while I’m there,” Severn said.
Severn’s event falls on Wednesday, Sept. 14.
“I’m making a short trip out of this one,” he said. “I was planning on leaving (Aug. 28) since I don’t throw until the 14th. They offered me a chance to stay home another week so I jumped at that. I’m leaving (Sunday) and coming home on (Sept.) 18th.”
At 48 years of age, and heading to the Paralympics for the third time, Severn is embracing his veteran status and is more than willing to talk to first-timers on what the experience is like and what to expect in Rio. Severn says he has no plans for retirement.
“It kind of hit me at the team announcement (at the Paralympic Trials),” Severn said. “Our coach came in and started talking about who the youngest one was on the team, and who was the oldest and I told her she could stop right there.
“I realized it was me.”
The 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held in Tokyo. The destination for the 2024 Games won’t be announced until next September, but several U.S. cities have applied for consideration, with Boston and Washington D.C. the frontrunners.
“Tokyo is definitely a possibility,” Severn said with a smile. “And so is 2024 — if my body holds together.”
John Schneider is sports editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org