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Emory, Georgia Tech researcher sets American record, wins Paralympics medal

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Cassie Mitchell in her medal-winning event

It wasn’t easy — it never is — to compete against the best in the world. Yet Cassie Mitchell again reached the podium at the Paralympic Games, overcoming cancer and a yearlong pandemic delay to win a silver medal.

A biomedical engineering assistant professor at the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, Mitchell placed second in the F51 club throw on Sept. 3 in Tokyo.

It took a Paralympic record to beat Mitchell, who herself threw a Paralympic-record 24.18 meters. Zoia Ovsii, from Ukraine, topped her by throwing for 25.12 meters. Still, Mitchell’s throw was a personal best and will go in the history books as an American record for F51 throwers.

As a result, Mitchell got a portion of what she went to Tokyo to achieve.

“I want to see the American flag raised; I want to hear our national anthem. It's the process and what it means to ‘never, never, never give up’ to reach the top, and to compete with honor for the USA,” Mitchell said before the Games. “I'm sentimental and very patriotic when it comes to competing for Team USA.”

The Tokyo Games were the third consecutive Paralympics for Mitchell. Before leaving for Japan, Mitchell said she felt an exceptional competitive fire this year. It paid off with world No. 1 rankings in both discus and club throw in the F51 classification. She finished fourth in discus, where she faced athletes with greater function in their limbs.

Paralympians are grouped into classifications according to their disability. Mitchell is classified as a 51 athlete; they are the most severely disabled athletes who have impairments in all four limbs (the "F" refers to field athletes). Several classifications were combined for her discus event.

Since an autoimmune disease left her paralyzed, Mitchell has thrown herself into wheelchair sports, shifting from cycling to track and now throwing. Before the Rio Games in 2016, she was diagnosed with leukemia yet brought home two medals — one silver and one bronze.

No matter. Before boarding a plane for Tokyo, Mitchell, who is still being treated for leukemia, said she had a feeling she’d be strong in club throw.

Turns out, she was right. And she’ll return to Atlanta with a silver medal to prove it. 

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