Group lobbies Congress with free-throw contest

The Associated Press
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Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., center, cheered on by Paralympic medalist April Holmes, right, and others, shoots a free throw at a basketball event hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee together with the Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus, Wednesday, March 16, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo)

Carlos Leon was a 20-year-old Marine sergeant when he broke his neck in a 2005 diving accident shortly after returning from duty in Iraq.

A program that's run jointly by the U.S. Paralympics and the Veterans Administration helped him become a Paralympic discus thrower.

"The program saved my life," he said. "I was sitting in a room doing nothing with my life when I learned about it. I'm here to raise awareness to make sure that the program continues for the military. It saves lives."

Leon joined Paralympians and Olympians on Wednesday to Capitol Hill to lobby in a unique way — engaging members of Congress and their staffers in a free-throw shooting contest.

The group is asking Congress to continue $8 million in funding for the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympic Military Program, which provides post-rehabilitation support and mentoring to American servicemen and women.

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said it's been a great partnership.

"It's important to show our support for our Olympians and Paralympians and especially their work with our Wounded Warriors," said Langevin, who uses a wheelchair because of an accidental shooting when he was 16. He's the co-chair of the Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus.

In the free-throw contest, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., was the best of his colleagues, making four of five attempts. Former Olympic basketball stars Teresa Edwards and Christian Laettner were the sharpest shooters of the group that came to Capitol Hill.