University of Central Oklahoma officials Monday night formally announced the school’s designation as a Paralympic training site, extending its foray into Olympic-caliber athletics.

With the announcement, made at the Civic Center Braum’s Ice Rink, UCO will attract elite athletes from across the country for training in a variety of events.

UCO will create, promote and host programs and events sanctioned by the United States Olympic Committee, the governing body of the U.S. Olympic movement.

World-class athletes like Roderick Green already train at UCO.

Green’s right leg was amputated below the knee when he was three years old. He was born with a malformed foot and leg, and it was determined by his parents and doctors that he could do better with a prosthesis.

In high school, Green was a Top 10 basketball player in Louisiana and all-conference. In 1997, he became the first amputee to receive an NAIA scholarship.

At the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, he won a silver medal in the 200-meter event and took home a pair of bronze medals in the 400-meter race and in the long jump.

Green said he trains anywhere from five to eight hours a day at UCO. His regiment includes lifting weights, track work outs and playing basketball at the Wellness Center.

Green had high praise for the UCO-USOC partnership.

“It brings more athletes in, it brings more awareness to Paralympics in this area,” Green said. “Now younger kids will be able to come up in this area and say, ‘Oh, so what are you doing? What’s wrong with your leg?’”

Teaching youngsters about Paralympics ultimately will help the sport grow, Green said.

Having a more educated public will result in benefits like increased attendance at various events, he said.

And now, with the increase in attention, athletes wearing a prothesis will be able to show the world that they are a “true” athlete, Green said.

The partnership is more evidence that UCO really is connected to the metro area, said Steve Kreidler, UCO executive vice president.

“I think Oklahoma is good enough to be an Olympic state,” Kreidler said. “We’re glad to be a part of that.”

Oklahoma already is home to Olympic-level talent like Edmond’s own Shannon Miller and Norman’s Bart Connor and Nadia Comaneci, both gold medal gymnasts.

Anne Holzberlein, director of the UCO Foundation, invited Connor and Comaneci to be honorary co-chairs for the event.

“I think this is an exciting opportunity to bring a little attention to the Olympic and Paralympic movement,” Connor said.

Thirty years ago, Connor said, he was adopted by the Sooner State.

“I hope the Olympic athletes have a similar experience here,” he said.

The UCO-USOC partnership means that Oklahomans will have a chance to be a part of helping some athletes achieve their dreams, Connor said.

Getting there takes exposing communities to high-level athletics, Connor said. Connor, who grew up in a Chicago suburb, said he remembers when he was in high school seeing world-class gymnastics.

Whether athletes are able-bodied or disabled, having a source of inspiration can make a difference, he said.

The USOC is naming a total of eight select cities as community partners in an effort to involve more areas around the country in Olympic-caliber activities.

UCO has been involved with disabled athletes for many years. It has hosted the Endeavor Games the past six years and created a national database to connect disabled athletes with competition across the country.

The campus also is the official training site for the USA Men’s National Sitting Volleyball Team.

(Education reporter Mark Schlachtenhaufen may be reached via e-mail at ms@edmondsun.com)

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