By Grace Austin

The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has been governing the Paralympic movement since then. This year’s Paralympic Games will begin August 27, immediately following the Olympics. An estimated 4,200 athletes from 170 National Paralympic Committees will be represented at the Paralympics.

The games include athletes with mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy. The Paralympic Movement classifies eligible impairments as such: impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment, and intellectual impairment.

There are 20 sports in the 2012 Paralympic Games. They include the following: Paralympic Archery, Boccia, Paralympic Equestrian, Football (soccer), Paralympic Swimming, Sitting Volleyball, Wheelchair Fencing, and Wheelchair Tennis.

There are some notable Paralympic athletes competing in London:

Oscar Pistorious, a double amputee, is a South African sprinter, known as the “Blade Runner,” due to the carbon-fiber blades attached to his limbs. This requires both speed and balance, and usually means less propulsion out of the blocks. Pistorius began competing internationally in able-bodied events, which came under controversy for his supposed advantages from his prosthetics. Since then, he has qualified for the World Championships and is looking to compete at this month’s games.

American Paralympic judo star Myles Porter is legally blind. He went undefeated in the 100 kg class to win the 2011 Parapan American Games title, marking his first championship at a major international event. Porter was also voted to be the U.S. flag bearer in the Closing Ceremony. He hopes to go for gold this summer at the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Swimmer Jessica Long will be entered in nine events, including two relays. Long has been active since the 2004 Paralympic Games, when she first competed at the age of 12. She is the current world record holder in 20 events. In 2007 she became the first Paralympic athlete to be given the Amateur Athletic Union’s Sullivan Award, the highest honor for a U.S. amateur athlete.

Alana Nichols, who also competes as a Paralympic alpine skier, helped lead Team USA to a gold medal in wheelchair basketball at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Nichols was introduced to wheelchair basketball after a snowboarding accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. After Beijing, Nichols began training in alpine skiing, and has since won numerous titles and medals. She is the first American woman with gold medals in both the summer and winter Paralympic games.