Becca Meyers, a six-time Paralympic medalist, has decided to withdraw from the Tokyo Games after being told she couldn’t bring her care assistant.
Calling the decision “gut-wrenching,” the 26-year-old American swimmer said in a Tuesday statement she was sad that she couldn’t represent her country but was left with no choice.
Meyers, born deaf due to a rare genetic condition called Usher syndrome, has been slowly losing her sight to the disorder. She needs a personal care assistant to compete. Since 2017, that person has been her mother, who was officially approved and has assisted Meyers for all international meets.
But despite the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee allowing Meyers’ mother to aid her, organizers have limited the number of Olympics-related staff attending this year’s games due to COVID-19 restrictions. At Tokyo 2020, the athlete was told there’d be a single care assistant on staff to assist her and the other 33 Paralympic swimmers. There are nine other visually impaired athletes, besides Meyers.
Most non-essential staff are banned from going to the games, but in Meyers’ case, her care assistant is “essential” for her to compete, she said in the statement.
“So, in 2021, why as a disabled person am I still fighting for my rights?” she said.
Meyers, who won three gold medals and one silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics alone, is a world-ranking champion. Currently, she holds the number-one spot in the 400-meter freestyle, and is highly ranked in multiple other categories. Then at just 17 years old, she brought home two silvers and a bronze medal at the London 2012 Games.
She started swimming at six years old, in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. In the water Meyers felt free, and found it “fun, simple and easy,” she wrote in her biography on the International Paralympic Committee website.
Meyers also tried soccer, but realized she had a hard time seeing the ball and “hearing referee calls, so I would just get hit in the face,” her biography said.
Since the Paralympian posted her statement, she’s received numerous messages in support of her decision.
In Congress on Tuesday, U.S. Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire called the USOPC’s actions an “outrage, and a preventable situation that should never have gotten to this point,” according to a video Hassan posted on Twitter.
Meyers said she hopes that by speaking up for future generations of Paralympic athletes, they “never have to experience the pain I’ve been through.”