Shirley Reilly, a Paralympic athlete of Inupiaq descent who spent the early part of her life in Barrow, won silver Sunday in a 5,000-meter wheelchair event at the 2012 Paralympic games in London.
Reilly achieved her medal in the 5,000-meter, "T54" division, designating athletes with no leg function but full or near-full arm function. Reilly finished the final race with a time of 12 minutes, 27.91 seconds, a mere .04 seconds behind the gold medalist Edith Wolf of Switzerland. Earning bronze was Australian Christie Dawes.
Reilly was born prematurely and because her lungs didn't work properly, suffered spinal damage that caused her to lose use of her legs. She and her family moved to California at a young age for medical treatment. Eventually, Reilly had numerous spinal discs and two ribs removed, with a titanium frame to provide support for what remained of her spine.
Despite her handicap, Shirley was athletic for most of her life, participating in sports with her siblings and playing goalie when participating in soccer in high school. Reilly now attends college in Tuscon, Ariz. and earlier this year completed both the Boston and London Marathons. She won the wheelchair division in Boston.
The 5,000-meter event is just the first in which Reilly is competing. She has four other events remaining.
First, she'll be part of the 800-meter, "T53" (for athletes with no leg function, little or no spinal function, and regular arm and hand function) race on Wednesday. She'll compete in round one of the 1,500-meter T54 event on Thursday. Then, she'll see action in the 400-meter T53 race on Saturday, before the grand finale of the marathon Sunday.