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Five Athletes With Northwest Ties In Sochi For Paralympic Winter Games

American and European politicians are boycotting the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi to protest Russian moves in Ukraine. But athletes with physical disabilities from Idaho, Oregon and Washington plan to compete in the Olympic host city as scheduled starting this weekend.

Five athletes with ties to the Northwest qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Team and flew to Sochi this week. They're competing in downhill and cross country skiing, biathlon and sled hockey.

In addition, two sighted guides -- one from Washington and one from Idaho -- went to Sochi in tandem with the visually impaired skiers from here.

This will be the second Paralympic Winter Games for paralyzed U.S. Air Force veteran Sean Halsted. Halsted grew up able-bodied, skiing downhill at Mt. Spokane and North Idaho's Schweitzer Mountain. But now he competes in cross country and biathlon on what's called a sit-ski.

"I get the endorphin rush from the hills," he says. "I get the cardiovascular (workout)... All that stuff I got out of alpine, I get now in cross country skiing."

While Halsted, 43, served in the Air Force, he fell from a helicopter during a training exercise and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rico Roman is another of the many injured military veterans on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team. He competes in sled hockey, a fan favorite at the Winter Games. Roman was born and raised in Portland before he enlisted in the U.S. Army. During his third tour in Iraq in 2007, his left leg had to be amputated above the knee following a roadside bomb explosion.

Legally blind skier Jake Adicoff, from Sun Valley, Idaho, is entered in Nordic skiing and biathlon events with sighted guide Reid Pletcher, whose day job is ski coach in Sun Valley. Adicoff, 18, deferred his admission to Bowdoin College in Maine by a year so that he could train full time for these Paralympic Winter Games.

Visually impaired alpine skier Mark Bathum, from Mercer Island, Wash., is the most senior member of the 2014 U.S. team at 55 years old. Bathum previously competed at the Vancouver Paralympic Games. Cade Yamamoto from Quincy, Wash. will be his guide.

Biathlete and Nordic skier Omar Bermejo is a resident athlete at the Wood River Ability Program in Sun Valley, Idaho, although he lists Grand Rapids, Mich., as his hometown. Bermejo's dominant arm had to be amputated after a motorcycle accident. He is a Marine Corps veteran.

Competitors in Sochi say they're trying to block out the turmoil in nearby Ukraine. During a conference call Thursday, the chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee said he is pleased with the safety and security arrangements of the Russian host organization.

The Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games took place Friday in the same stadium that hosted the Winter Olympic ceremonies in Sochi last month.

The duration and scale of the Paralympic Games is significantly smaller than the preceding Olympic Games. Competition starts Saturday and lasts through March 16. You can watch many of the events on the NBCSN cable channel.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.