OUR IMPOSSIBLE
STORIES

Athletes who inspire us
to keep moving

These inspiring stories show us what is possible when we push the limits of human mobility.

Andrea Eskau - Para Cross-Country Skier

Andrea Eskau holds her Nordic skiing poles and looks into the camera in a bull's-eye red racing suit.
BORN

March 21, 1971

HOMETOWN

Apolda, Germany

SPORT

Cycling, Para Cross-Country Skiing

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2008, 2012, 2016
PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES
2010, 2014

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Playing Para sports may have been born from necessity for Andrea, but before long the German powerhouse became one of the dominating forces on the Paralympic scene in summer and winter sports. She tried out wheelchair basketball first and eventually expanded her skills to Para cross-country skiing, Para biathlon, wheelchair racing and handcycle racing.

To date, Andrea has won 37 World Championship medals and is a 27-time World Champion in cycling, Para biathlon and Para cross-country skiing.

"The sacrifice and effort which goes into [winning a gold Paralympic medal] is truly incredible, and we’re so proud to be a small part of Andrea’s team."
– Toyota TMG engineer

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I’ve achieved many, many medals, but my biggest achievement as an athlete is to be fair and competitive. That’s what I believe is very, very important.

Inspired by Andrea’s unrelenting determination to challenge what’s possible, Toyota approached her in 2012 to initiate a collaboration. Focused on comfort and speed, we have worked closely with Andrea to create custom-made lightweight carbon fibre solutions for her bike and sledge that would give the star athlete an even greater competitive edge at the Paralympic Games.

Lauren Woolstencroft - Para Alpine Skier

BORN

November 24, 1981

HOMETOWN

Banff, AB, Canada

SPORT

Para Alpine Skiing

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2002, 2006, 2010

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Lauren was born missing her left arm below the elbow as well as both legs below the knees, but that couldn’t stop her passion for sports. She began hitting the slopes as a weekend pastime with her ski-enthusiast father, and skiing quickly grew into an impassioned vocation for the budding athlete. Despite tremendous challenges and setbacks, Lauren began racing with the Alberta Para-Alpine Ski Team when she was 14 years old.

“When I first started competing, I definitely thought being on the top step of that podium seemed impossible. But through years of training and hard work—and a great team behind me—I was able to translate that into ten medals at the Paralympic Games.”

If I could describe my journey in the Paralympic Games in one word, I would say determination.

Lauren continued defying what seemed impossible one downhill slope at a time. During her tenure with the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team, Lauren became one of the most decorated Para alpine skiers in the world, winning ten medals—eight gold, one silver and one bronze—at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games for Team Canada.

When announcing her departure from competitive skiing in 2010, Lauren stated that she wanted to be remembered as an athlete who faced challenges and overcame them to achieve success.

Han Min-Su - Para Ice Hockey Player

BORN

June 3, 1970

HOMETOWN

Seoul, South Korea

SPORT

Para Ice Hockey

PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES

2010, 2014

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Twenty-three years old and living with rheumatoid arthritis in both legs, Han decided to climb a mountain that was 1,708 meters high. Once he reached the summit 17 hours later, he felt the rush of courage he would need to turn life’s barriers into possibilities.

When Han’s left leg was amputated seven years later after he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, Han reflected on that triumphant moment on the mountain, and he decided to relentlessly pursue his lifelong dream to become a world-class athlete.

It’s challenging… setting a goal, preparing to reach the goal, and all the sweat that goes with it. That’s when I feel alive and that’s when I’m glad that I play hockey.

Han began competing in Para powerlifting, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby—all at the national level in the Republic of Korea—but it was on the ice that Han settled into his domain. A few years later, Han was shining as the Vancouver 2012 Paralympic Winter Games superstar. Next, Han will create a new summit for his hockey legacy when he hits the home ice at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea.

Michael Milton - Para Alpine Skier

BORN

March 21, 1973

HOMETOWN

Canberra, Australia

SPORT

Para Alpine Skiing and Cycling

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2008
PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES
1988, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2006

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

As soon as Michael learned how to walk, he took off running. His ski-enthusiast family made regular trips to the mountains near Canberra where he became addicted to the thrill of bombing down powdery slopes.

When Michael was nine years old, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and his leg was amputated above the knee. After a few challenging years recovering and relearning to walk with one leg, 11-year-old Michael was ready to re-explore the bounds of his physical abilities through sports.

For me, moving is about exploring, experiencing the world to the fullest extent that I can.

A life of dedication and persistent training turned Michael into the most successful Australian Paralympic athlete at the Paralympic Winter Games. Michael also competes in Para athletics, mountain biking and the Para triathlon. “I don’t like to see things as impossible. For me, life is about testing my limits and seeing what is possible.”

Inspired by Michael’s story, Toyota Australia began working with the Paralympian in 2002, and the multitalented athlete became an official Toyota brand ambassador in 2007. Toyota is excited to stay by Michael’s side and experience where his next athletic dreams take him.

Tatyana McFadden - Para Athlete

BORN

April 21, 1989

HOMETOWN

Clarksville, Maryland, USA

SPORT

Para Athletics and Para Cross-Country Skiing

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2004, 2008, 2012, 2016
PARALYMPIC WINTER GAMES
2014

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Tatyana was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, with spina bifida, a disorder that paralyzed her from the waist down. She spent the first years of her life in an orphanage, scooting across the ground on her hands.

After arriving in the U.S. with her adoptive family at age six, Tatyana began experimenting with different sports to strengthen her muscles after spinal surgery. By the time she was in 8th grade, Tatyana was determined to one day become a Paralympic champion.

But despite her greatest efforts, Tatyana still had difficulty getting permission to compete against her peers in high school. In response, the young athlete became an activist and helped spearhead a law that requires schools to give students with impairments equal opportunity to compete in interscholastic athletics.

The word impossible... it doesn’t really mean anything to me because I’ve always found ways to make things possible.

Since 2004, Tatyana has been a fixture at the Paralympic Games in both short- and long-distance races, winning seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals for Team USA. She also won the Boston, Chicago, London and New York Marathons, making her the first person—able-bodied or otherwise—to win the four major marathons in the same year.

In 2014, Tatyana returned to her birth country to compete in sprint sitting Para cross-country skiing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Russia. In this place of her past, amidst the excitement of her Paralympic dreams fulfilled, Tatyana was reminded of just how far she had come when she proudly accepted the silver medal.

Rami Anis - Swimmer

BORN

March 18, 1991

HOMETOWN

Aleppo, Syria; currently resides in Eeklo, Belgium

SPORT

Swimming

OLYMPIC GAMES

2016

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

In 2015, after four years of living as a refugee in Turkey, Syrian swimmer Rami decided to make the trek to Europe to continue the pursuit of his Olympic dreams. The young man braved the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean on an inflatable dinghy, making landfall on a Greek island. From there, Rami embarked on a treacherous overland journey before reaching Belgium where he was granted asylum.

Finally, after his epic odyssey to Europe, Rami’s Olympic dreams were within reach. In 2016, the Syrian swimmer and ten other courageous athletes marched behind the flag of the International Olympic Committee’s Refugee Olympic Team at the Opening Ceremony in Brazil. Rami finished his first Olympic Games recording a personal best of 54.25 seconds in the 100m freestyle.

For me the Olympics, it’s my dream, and the village, it’s my home.

“My message to all refugees in the world: Even if you have a hard life, put it behind you and try to achieve your dreams.”

Rami is fulfilling his own dreams while bringing hope to the millions of people around the world currently displaced by deprivation and war.

Tyrone Pillay - Para Athlete

BORN

May 1, 1980

HOMETOWN

Durban, South Africa

SPORT

Para Athletics

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2016

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Tyrone always dreamed of becoming a great athlete. He dreamt of one day playing cricket for South Africa and believed that this is what he was meant to do. He played for over 14 years before he realized that, because of his impairment, he was never going to realize his dream of playing cricket for South Africa. And, as he grew older and adapted to his corrective prosthetic left foot, Tyrone became increasingly convinced that Olympic grandeur was also not within his reach. Still, in each free moment after work at Toyota S.A. and on weekends, he enjoyed playing sports with friends and colleagues.

Later, while watching the shot put at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games on TV, Tyrone's dreams of athletic glory were suddenly reawakened; he witnessed athletes who were strong and tall with a build not dissimilar to his own competing on the world stage. This was the moment Tyrone knew that he belonged on that Paralympic field and it was time to embrace that.

Just eight years after watching the Beijing Paralympics, Tyrone stepped onto the field in Rio to compete in the shot put for Team South Africa. At his first-ever Paralympic Games, Tyrone proudly accepted the bronze medal for his country.

My impossibility would be to leave a legacy for the next generation of athletes; to try and create a world where nobody sees a divide between able-bodied and Paralympic athletes.

Brad Snyder - Para Swimmer

BORN

February 29, 1984

HOMETOWN

Reno, Nevada, USA

SPORT

Para Swimming

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2012, 2016

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

The water is where Brad Snyder feels most free. He learned to swim in Florida when he was still a toddler and began competing when he was 11 years old. Later, Brad became the captain of his swim team at the United States Naval Academy.

“I think living life with a visual impairment, living life blind, living life dark is what seemed impossible to us in the weeks after I sustained the injury… what I found in the Paralympics is that even though I can’t see, there’s still a whole world of things I’m still capable of.”

When an injured Brad returned home from Afghanistan, he had to learn to find his way through the dark. His family stayed by his side, helping the once-resilient soldier complete simple tasks such as eating, dressing and finding the bathroom.

I want for [my story] to go out into the atmosphere and inspire the next generation of athletes to dream about being on that Paralympic podium.

Just months into recovery, Brad decided to return to the waters that he found so familiar. One year to the day after his losing his eyesight while on duty, he proudly stood on the Paralympic podium to take home the gold for Team USA. Among swimmers with complete visual impairment, Brad is the current world-record holder for the 100-meter freestyle.

Today, Brad has a new ambition: to adopt a second sport and compete in the Paratriathlon in Tokyo 2020.

Lucy Ogechukwu-Ejike - Para Powerlifter

 Lucy Ogechukwu Ejike takes a break between reps during a workout.
BORN

October 16, 1977

HOMETOWN

Enugu, Nigeria

SPORT

Para Powerlifting

PARALYMPIC GAMES

2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

When Lucy moved from her hometown of Enugu to a group home for people with impairments, she discovered a world of opportunities available to her, including Para sports. She took particular interest in Para powerlifting—a competitive activity she could participate in from her wheelchair.

Shortly before the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, Lucy began a rigorous powerlifting training regime. That year—in her first competition—she took home the silver medal for Team Nigeria. Just a few years later, competing for the same weight class at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, Lucy broke the Paralympic Para powerlifting world record twice on her way to winning the gold medal.

In 2016, Lucy made headlines once again at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games when she broke three world records and took home her third Paralympic gold medal.

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The advice I have for [young girls who aspire to powerlift] is that they should not be afraid. They can do it. Let them join us. With determination, they can get to their destination.

Luik Triplets - Marathon Runners

 Liina, Lily and Lela stand in matching racing outfits and hold their Estonian flag behind them.
BORN

October 14, 1985

HOMETOWN

Tartu, Estonia

SPORT

Athletics

OLYMPIC GAMES

2016

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Running only began playing a role in the Luik sisters’ lives when they were 24 years old; Liina first adopted the sport before encouraging her sisters to join her. It was a natural affinity for the sisters because, as Liina puts it, “Movement to us means freedom.” A healthy, competitive drive amongst siblings set their collective impossible goal to run against—and alongside—one another at the Olympic Games.

“Even if you are not so young anymore, you can also go to the Olympic Games like we did,” said Liina Luik.

After months of relentless training, the Luik sisters qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and became the first and only triplets to ever participate. After the race—exhausted yet brimming with excitement—Lily, Liina and Leila linked arms, proud that together they had accomplished their collective dream of running together as Olympians

We thought that it was impossible because we started so late—at 24 years old—but it doesn't matter how old you are. Even if you are not so young anymore, you can also go to the Olympic Games like we did." – Liina Luik

Shane Gould - Swimmer

Shane Gould, still competing at the masters level, smiles after exiting the water.
BORN

November 23, 1956

HOMETOWN

Bicheno, Tasmania, Australia

SPORT

Swimming

OLYMPIC GAMES

1972

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

After her family moved back to their native Australia from Fiji in time for Shane to attend primary school, Shane began swimming competitively. A budding superstar, young Shane quickly rose through the ranks, and by the time she was 15, she had arrived on the Olympic stage.

Shane dominated the lanes at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games, winning five medals—three gold, one silver and one bronze. She simultaneously held world records in the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1500-meter freestyle, as well as the 200-meter individual medley.

My greatest memory at the Olympic Games is the people from all around the world coming together to play games in peace.

After dominating at the 1972 Games, Shane was catapulted into the limelight. The athletic young star recoiled from the pressures of fame, and she took up other challenges away from competitive swimming, returning to explore the wild ocean of her childhood. It wasn’t until two decades later that Shane returned to competitive swimming at the masters' level where she continued to break world records.

Today, the prodigious swimmer dedicates herself to the Shane Gould Swimming Project—a non-profit that operates in Fiji, Sweden and in aboriginal communities in Australia by training aspiring swimmers with the necessary skills to keep them safe.

Zola Budd - Cross Country Runner

BORN

May 26, 1966

HOMETOWN

Bloemfontein, South Africa, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA

SPORT

Middle- and long-distance running

OLYMPIC GAMES

1984, 1992

ACHIEVING IMPOSSIBLE

Zola never believed she would become a great runner. It was just something that she loved doing, something that made her feel free. But in 1984, Zola achieved sudden fame when she broke the women’s 5,000-meter world record. She also achieved unwelcome fame for her unique barefooted-running style and for the controversy that marked her win.

For me, mobility means freedom. Not just physical freedom, but also emotional and spiritual freedom.

Instead of tasting the fruits of victory when she crossed the finish line, Zola was sorely reminded of the tumultuous political atmosphere in her country; in 1984, South Africa was excluded from international athletic competitions due to its apartheid policy, and Zola’s time was not ratified as an official world record.

Determined to compete at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, Zola applied for British citizenship on the grounds that her grandfather was British. She ran again the following year for Great Britain, beating her own time from the previous year. This time, Zola’s new world record was official.

Zola may have circumvented the sporting boycott placed on South Africans, but she could not escape an overwhelming climate of anger toward her country’s policies when she arrived in Los Angeles for the Olympic Games. Despite this, Zola soldiered on and in 1985 and 1986, she reigned supreme as the World Cross Country Champion. Zola returned to the Olympic track once again in 1992, this time to proudly represent her home country—South Africa.

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