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A 1986 St. Lawrence University graduate will not only compete in the 2004 Paralympics games in Athens, Greece, he has also been elected as the U.S. team's flag-bearer.

The 2004 U.S. Paralympic Team elected 2000 judo gold medalist Kevin Szott '86, of Clifton, N.J., as the flag-bearer to lead the USA delegation into the Opening Ceremony in Athens, to be held September 17.

"Iím honored," Szott said upon learning of his selection. "Iíve been competing in disabled sports for 20 years and have decided this is my last Games. If I were writing my own script, it couldnít have worked out any better. Carrying the flag adds to the excitement and means I have to win now."

Szott is a versatile athlete who holds 31 national titles in wrestling, powerlifting, shot put, discus, javelin and judo for the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes and is only the second athlete ever to medal in four different sports at the Paralympic Games. His most recent focus has been judo, becoming the first visually impaired athlete to be nationally ranked by USA Judo. During the Sydney Paralympic Games, he became the second American to win a gold medal in either Olympic or Paralympic competition.

Szott became visually impaired at the age of 10 from retinitis pigmentosa and macular disease. In 1983, he earned First Team All-East Honors and was a NCAA Division III All-American in football at St. Lawrence. Szott earned two gold (wrestling and goalball) and one silver (shot put) medals, in addition to finishing fifth in the discus and javelin, at the 1984 Long Island Paralympic Games. Since then, he has medaled at numerous national and international competitions, including a silver in judo at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.

"The fact that others chose me means a lot," said Szott, who also serves as a member of the USABA Board of Directors. "Itís like a pat on the back for all my athletic achievements, work in disabled sports and my contribution to the Paralympic movement in the United States. I didnít think Iíd be chosen because from archery to wheelchair rugby everyone at this level of competition has an unbelievable resume. There are so many great athletes in U.S. Paralympics and there is always someone out there who has done more than you."

Szott, who earned his St. Lawrence degree in biology, is a group sales representative for The Hartford. He holds a master's degree in exercise physiology from Penn State, where he worked for a time as a strength coach.

"I canít fight for my country because Iím blind so when I wear USA on my back thatís my way of serving our country," he said. "The fact that we are at war means carrying the flag is not just about me, itís about representing a free country and all those who have done so much to keep it that way."

Posted: September 16, 2004