MILWAUKEE — The Paralympic Games begin in Beijing on March 4. They feature the best athletes in the world who compete with physical disabilities.
Milwaukee is home to an inspiring athlete who is working hard to compete in the 2024 or 2028 Paralympic Games.
Justin Rankin wears his Team USA gear proudly. Taekwondo is his passion.
“It brings me happiness,” said Rankin. “It’s my life.”
Rankin was born with Cerebral Palsy. When he was seven, his mom and grandparents searched out activities for him to try. Many gyms turned him away.
“When I started, the teachers would tell my mom that they don’t deal with people like me,” Rankin said. “It was really hard to find a place and people I could trust. That’s why I work so hard to do this. It’s not just for me. It’s for other kids with different physical abilities who are going through that. They aren’t sure what they can do. That hurts. Just because you have a disability, doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.”
Rankin hopes to open his own gym in Milwaukee one day.
“My ability is stronger than my disability,” he said. “You just have to put your mind to something and believe you can do it. It’s in your mind. It’s in your heart.”
He is a national advocate for people with special needs and has earned dozens of medals and accolades competing in Taekwondo. He is working to qualify for future Paralympic games, but pays for every tournament out of pocket.
Unlike most Olympic athletes, very few Paralympic athletes are able to find sponsors.
“These tournaments are expensive,” said Rankin. “You have to pay to get in, plus hotel, food, a plane ticket. I've spent a lot of money over 5 years. Not having funding, or help to go to these tournaments, I can't compete.”
He has created a GoFundMe page asking for help and supporting him is about a lot more than helping him get to tournaments.
“I want to make sure we can get other kids and adults of all abilities to do Taekwondo or any kind of sport,” said Rankin. “I want them to know they can do it.”