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Paralympic Curlers Chase Gold From Falmouth to Sochi

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Meghan Lino throws a curling stone. Wheelchair curlers get into a stationary, tandem position for stone throws and use a a delivery stick - a pole with a bracket that fits over the rock handle, allowing the rock to be pushed while applying correct rotation.
Patricia Alvarado Nunez / WGBH
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  The U.S. Wheelchair Curling team's hopes for a medal at the 2014 Paralympics came to an end today after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Great Britain in their ninth and final preliminary round match.

Following Thursday's action on the ice, American team members David Palmer, of Mashpee, and Meghan Lino, of East Falmouth, along with their coach Tony Calacchio posted on their blog on the Cape Cod Curling Club website.

"Well it is now over for Team USA but we had a great time. As it went there isn't even going to be any tie beaker games. Everyone is off tomorrow and the semi finals we take place on Saturday. It will be Russia against Great Britain and Canada against China. Winners then go to the Gold/Silver round and the loser's go to the Bronze Medal round on Sunday. 

Now we relax and enjoy what time we have left. 

Thank you all for the support you always give us. 

We'll be seeing you soon."

- Tony, Meghan and David

While the results were a disappointment, just getting to Sochi was it's own gold medal worthy feat for the trio.

Sports were always a big part of Palmer’s life. But he wasn’t always in a wheelchair. Twenty years ago, a night out drinking at the bars ended in tragedy as he drove his motorcycle off the road, head-on into a tree.

Palmer was left paralyzed from the waist down, facing a long recovery.

“I was in a coma for three weeks but when I come to they said you’re lucky to be a live. About ninety-five percent wouldn’t have made it through the accident of what I went through,” he said. “What got me through was we adopted three children and I stayed home and took care of them.”

Eventually, Palmer learned that just because he was in a wheelchair didn’t mean he had to give up playing sports. That’s when he met Colacchio, then president of the Cape Cod Curling Club in Falmouth.

It was 2007, and the Club was making some renovations to their building to bring it up to code. The law required that they make one of their bathrooms accessible. Colacchio, of East Falmouth, said he wanted make all the bathrooms accessible.

The board applauded Colacchio’s enthusiasm, but they didn’t exactly embrace his idea.

“They were reluctant because of the cost,” he said.

Colacchio raised the money himself. Three years and $19,000 later, the club held its first open ice day for wheelchair curlers.

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Coach Tony Colacchio discusses the plan for a stone throwing drill with Palmer and Lino.
Patricia Alvarado Nunez / WGBH

Among those who attended that day was Meghan Lino, of East Falmouth. Lino was born with spina bifida. Growing up, she said she was never really one for sports. That all changed the moment she wheeled onto the ice.

“First stone I threw I was hooked. I really was I said, this is something I can see myself doing for years,” she said.

Lino and Palmer both joined the club, and popped in for the occasional curling match, but Colacchio had bigger things in mind.

“When I got into curling five years ago, Tony said, ‘You have a chance to go to the Paralympics.’ And I thought he was crazy. Crazy guy just trying to get you to go curling, ya know?”

But as Lino and Palmer explain it, Colacchio can be persuasive. Eventually, they bought in, and the three of them got down to serious work.

“On a typical day that we practice you throw 100 to 200 stones,” Palmer said. “You go home at night you feel it, in your shoulder in your back, it’s a good work out.”

The countless hours of training have paid off. Both Palmer and Lino headed to Sochi for the Paralympics last week– two of the five members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team.

Collachio went to Sochi with them. He wouldn’t miss it. In a way, he’s been working toward this moment for almost his entire life.

When he was 13, Collachio’s 10-year-old cousin, Michael, died. Michael was in a wheelchair, barely communicative, plagued with health problems. Tony served as a pallbearer at the funeral.

“While walking him down that aisle in church something came over me that struck me just so hard. All he wanted from us kids, his cousins, was time. And we were always just a little bit too busy having too much fun and we never gave him any of that time. So from that period on I regarded folks in wheelchairs a little different. Because I never wanna have that feeling again.”

Today, that feeling is replaced with a sense of pride for all they have already accomplished.

"I know the opportunity is here for our wheelchair curlers. I do this for them, I do this for our country, I do this for our curling club and our community, and I also do this for that little cousin of mine that I lost years ago."

How does wheelchair curling work? Watch video here.

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