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Paralympic discus thrower reflects on performance in Rio games

U.S. Paralympian Natalie Bieule triumphs

U.S. Paralympian Natalie Bieule talks about representing the United States
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U.S. Paralympian Natalie Bieule talks about representing the United States

Every experience that had led her there flashed at her in that moment, from her car accident to getting married to having her two daughters to picking up the discus for the first time. She thought about all the times she heard “no” and “you can’t” over the past 15 years.

Natalie Bieule gets goosebumps just thinking about that moment when she first stepped out into the Rio Paralympics Opening Ceremonies as a member of the United States delegation.

After finishing sixth in the F44 classification (single below-knee amputation and limited leg function) in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 11, she went up to her coach and shed a couple of tears. Larry Judge told her, “go find your family and go try to have a good time.” As she was looking for her family, many people — complete strangers — came up to her asking for pictures and expressing their amazement at what she had done.

Bieule, 34, was disappointed with her top throw of 28.62 meters (93 feet 11 inches). She had thrown over 33 meters with her coach earlier in the year. Despite her disappointment with her performance, Bieule said she was able to take pride in being a Paralympian and representing the United States.

“I let the emotions take over me,” she said of her performance. “I started noticing what they where doing instead of focusing on what I had to do.”

Her father reminded her that she had been throwing the discus for only two and a half years and how far she had come in that time and what she could accomplish at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020.

She started throwing after meeting April Holmes, a gold-medal Paralympian in track and field, at an amputee convention and being recruited by her. Bieule had never touched a discus before, but within a year she threw the 2.2-pound discus for an American-record of 28.93 meters (94 feet 11 inches) and her first of two national championships.

Even before picking up the discus, Bieule was in great physical shape because of her involvement in CrossFit.

At the 2013 Wodapalooza, a CrossFit competition held in Downtown Miami, Bieule finished 12th out of 60 women. The performance was even more remarkable because she was going up against 59 completely able-bodied women.

Bieule had her right leg amputated below the knee as a result of an auto accident in 2001 when she said a drunk driver collided with her car.

Since Bieule throws the discus left handed, there is a point during the throwing motion when the majority of her weight is on her prosthetic leg. This creates pain, but she said that uncomfortable sensation allows her to know that she is doing the motion correctly.

“It’s a give-and-take, I guess,” Bieule said.

Bieule grew up in the Kendall/Pinecrest area of Miami, went to St. Brendan High School, graduated from Barry University, and now lives in Pembroke Pines. She has lived in the Miami area her entire life.

She married her husband Matthew in April 2006. They have two daughters, Ava, 10, and Valentina, 1.

Bieule said she was nervous in the days leading up to her departure for Rio, but she was mostly emotional at the thought of leaving Valentina. She said that was the hardest part of the experience.

“It was an amazing experience to be in Brazil, but there’s no place like home,” she said. “There’s nothing like Miami.”

Bieule said she wants to set a good example for her daughters.

Over the past 15 years, she has learned, “Nobody’s going to tell me I can’t. The only limits that anybody’s going to set on me are the limits that I set on myself, and I don’t want to set any limits.”

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