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'Meet the Superhumans': Paralympians burst onto world stage

LONDON -- A battlefield explosion sends troops flying, a speeding car flips over on a highway, a "Murderball" player is knocked right out of his wheelchair, all set to a fierce Public Enemy soundtrack. 

"Forget everything you thought you knew about strength. Forget everything you thought you knew about humans. It's time to do battle. Meet the Superhumans."

That’s how British TV viewers are being introduced to this year’s Paralympic athletes by Channel 4, which is broadcasting the London 2012 Games. Its campaign is giving Superbowl ads a run for their money, going viral with more than 500,000 views on YouTube alone.


The hard-hitting ad is designed to jolt the public into a state of awareness and awe of what many of these disabled athletes have had to deal with just to stay alive, let alone compete at an elite level. It highlights that the competitors have overcome disabilities and disasters most of us cannot begin to imagine or will ever have to face. And that was before they became world-class competitors.

Transforming the despair of being paralyzed in battle into determination, Iraq War veteran Scott Winkler sets his sights on a medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

More coverage of the London Paralympics from Britain's ITV News

The campaign also aims to combat the impression that the Paralympics is essentially the "Olympics-lite." Among the sports the ad focuses on is wheelchair rugby -- which is so violent that it's been dubbed "Murderball." The sheer amount of full-force contact between players requires welders to be put on standby on the sideline to repair damaged wheelchairs.

Some of the hottest tickets at the London Paralympics are for wheelchair rugby. The sport is so violent and fierce, that it has been dubbed "Murderball". ITN's Lewis Vaughan Jones met Team Great Britain's inspirational captain.

The International Wheelchair Rugby Federation has championed the "Meet the Superhumans" campaign and comments posted on its Vimeo page illustrate the ad's power. "Now that's what I'm talking about, 'Thank you for letting me be myself.' Public Enemy never sounded better," one fan wrote. "It's a great soundtrack for our ... lives whether we're Olympians or not."

Channel 4

This ad campaign for Channel 4's Paralympic coverage has captured the imagination of many people in Britain.

The event was founded 1948 to help rehabilitate injured British veterans returning from the Second World War, though many Americans remain unaware that it exists. (There's also a tendency to confuse it with the Special Olympics, which is unrelated. Paralympic athletes compete despite impairments including amputations, blindness, cerebral palsy and mobility disabilities.) However, there are signs that 2012 will be its breakout year.

Retired U.S. Marine Angela Madsen once lived out of a locker at Disneyland. But the 52-year-old paraplegic turned her life around and has rowed across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. She's now competing for Team USA at the Paralympic Games in London. Madsen told her story to NBC's Jamieson Lesko.

London-bound veterans push Paralympics back to battlefield roots

The success of the London 2012 Olympic Games has sparked a spike in public interest in Britain. Ticket sales have wildly exceeded expectations, with organizers saying 2.3 million tickets have already been sold, which is more than any other Paralympic Games in history. There's a high demand for the 200,000 remaining tickets, which will be made available in batches online.

Soccer superstar David Beckham is serving as an ambassador to the Games and Prince William and Kate Middleton are expected to attend Wednesday night's Opening Ceremony.

Ahead of the London Paralympics, L.A. Galaxy midfielder David Beckham spent a day learning blind football from Team Great Britain.

Team USA features 20 military veterans and active duty service members, including some wounded at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among them is U.S. Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper Centra "Ce-Ce" Mazyck, who was paralyzed when her parachute got tangled with another in 2003. Doctors said she'd never walk again but Maczyk refused to listen. And she has proved them wrong.

"I wasn't hearing it. In my heart, in my soul, I knew I could walk," Mazyck told NBC News. "To this day, I am walking."

Centra "Ce-Ce" Mazyck, who was paralyzed during a parachute jump with the 82 Airborne in November 2003, will compete in the javelin at the London Paralympics. "This is my second chance," she tells NBC News' Jamieson Lesko.

The South Carolina-based mother of one is now engaged to be married but admits shes also deeply "in love" with her javelin.

'Very fortunate'
U.S. Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder was blinded by a bomb while rushing to the aid of two fellow soldiers in Afghanistan.

His training regimen had him swimming 4,000 yards a day at his local pool in Baltimore. He is due to compete on the one-year anniversary of his injury. 

Lt. Brad Snyder lost his sight in an IED explosion in Afghanistan last year. The Navy officer will once again represent the U.S., this time at the London 2012 Paralympics in September.

"I knew I was very fortunate to be in that hospital bed and not in a coffin in the ground," Snyder said. "I'm going to show people that I'm not going to let this beat me. I'm not going to let blindness build a brick wall around me. I am going to find a way forward."

From darkness to gold: Blinded Navy swimmer set to race at Paralympics

South African double amputee and sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who has been nicknamed the "Blade Runner," will compete in the Paralympics after making history by running in the 400-meter event at the Olympics.

Pistorius is likely to face tough competition from Team USA, including a 25-year-old rocket scientist Jerome Singleton and the 22-year-old Blake Leeper.

Pistorius, a double amputee born without fibulas in his legs, has trained hard to participate in the Olympics despite having to wear prosthetic legs. NBC's Mary Carillo reports.

Pistorius, a four-time Paralympic gold medealist, will carry the flag for South Africa at Wednesday's Opening Ceremony. Coldplay will perform at the Closing Ceremony on September 9.

"I believe these Games are going to change peoples' mindsets about disabilities," Pistorius told Reuters. "In the last two to three years I've seen a shift. For many years people have shunned disability, but I don't have anything in life I'm not able to do. I don't think of my disability, I think of my ability."

Sixteen countries are competing for the first time. Among them, Haiti will make its debut with two athletes competing in track and field.

This is the story of two paralympians from Haiti - a nation which is competing in the games for the first time. It's a country where disability is stigmatized and those who are disabled are shunned. ITV's Lewis Vaughan Jones reports on two pioneers who want to overcome prejudice and fill their nation with pride.

British broadcaster Channel 4 will show 150 hours of programming and about 350 hours more online and across three temporary on-demand channel.

The International Paralympic Committee predicts that, adding together viewers on each of the 11 days of competition, the total audience figure for the London Paralympics will reach 4 billion.

It said that four years ago in Beijing, a total overall audience of around 3.8 billion in 80 countries watched the 2008 Paralympics - including a total of 1.4 billion viewings in China across 11 days, 670 million in Japan and 439 million in Germany. Calculating figures in that way means individual viewers are counted several times.

More coverage of the London Paralympics from NBC News

The daughter of the founder of the Paralympics told NBC News that the record-breaking ticket sales and interest in the London event would have made her father "immensely proud."

Of all the events that will be showcased in the Paralympics, few are as intriguing as blind soccer. ITN's Lewis Vaughan Jones met Team Great Britain captain David Clarke who explained how it works.

Eva Loeffler said Ludwig "Poppa" Guttmann – a neurologist who pioneered the rehabilitation of paralyzed Second World War service members at a hospital near London – would have been "extremely pleased" at how the Games had captured the public imagination.

The 79-year-old said it was "very appropriate, in a way" that so many veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts were taking part in this year's event. "Helping the military wounded was where it all began, after all," she said.

London 2012: Who were the real winners, losers?

Guttman, who fled Germany in 1933 after being persecuted by Hitler's Nazi regime, challenged medical orthodoxy at Stoke Mandeville hospital, north–west of London, by encouraging patients to play sports rather than accept their paralysis.

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

The Agitos symbol of the Parlaympics has replaced the Olympic rings on London's iconic Tower Bridge.

When London hosted the Summer Olympics in 1948, he created the Stoke Mandeville Games involving just 16 competitors. In the years that followed, he built his competition into the parallel Paralympic Games.

This year's event will feature 4,200 athletes from 166 teams competing in 20 sports.

Although Guttman died in 1980, Loeffler has continued his work, becoming a key figure in disabled sport – and has accepted an honorary role as mayor of the Paralympic Athletes' Village at the Olympic Park in East London.

'Second-class citizens': Wheelchair user's fury at Paralympics over seating

Lt. Brad Snyder, blinded by an IED explosion in Afghanistan, is now training for the London 2012 Paralympics.

One of Guttman's dreams was that disabled athletes would ultimately compete alongside their able-bodied counterparts – a wish that came true last month with Pistorius' historic participation at the Olympics.

"He would have regarded that as a great moment, I'm sure," Loeffler said.

How to watch the Paralympics from the U.S.

  • The International Paralympic Committee will live stream more than 780 hours of events.
  • NBC Sports Network will air one-hour highlight shows on September 4, 5, 6, and 11. All NBC and NBC Sports Network Paralympic highlight shows and specials will re-air on Universal Sports Network and www.UniversalSports.com.
    Check your local listings for channel info.
  • NBC will broadcast a 90-minute special from 2-3:30 p.m. ET on September 16.
  • The United States Olympic Committee has created a YouTube channel dedicated to the Games.
  • The U.S. Paralympic Team will also provide in-depth coverage of Team USA on its website.

Fahim Rahimi, is Afghanistan's only competitor at the Paralympics. He lost his leg in a land mine accident when he was just 12, but tonight the powerlifter is carrying the Afghan flag into the Olympic stadium. Jonathan Rugman, Britain's Channel 4 news reports.

More London 2012 coverage from NBC News:

 

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NBC News' Alastair Jamieson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.