WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama surrounded themselves with Olympians and Paralympians Thursday, saluting their success at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, praising their perseverance and marveling at their performances.
"I don't know how you guys do it," the first lady said. "You guys do crazy things." She singled out Navy Lt. Dan Cnossen, a Navy SEAL who more than four years ago stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan and lost both of his legs above the knees. Within a few months he was seated next to the first lady at a White House dinner with military leaders.
On Thursday, he was back as a member of Team USA, a Paralympic Nordic skier joining other U.S. athletes for their moment at the executive mansion. The event was much like many other salutes by the president to winning teams and sports figures. But the presence of Paralympians, many of them military veterans, gave the event deeper significance that was made all the more poignant coming a day after a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that left four people dead.
"We join that entire community in honoring those who lost their lives," Obama said of the Fort Hood victims at the beginning of his welcome for the athletes. "Every single one of them was an American patriot."
Before meeting the president and first lady, team members took an insider's tour of the mansion and the White House grounds. Slopestyle snowboarding gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg wound up carrying around a bouquet of vegetables from the kitchen garden on the South Lawn, made up of broccoli and other good things. But he wasn't quite sure what to make of that.
Women's hockey player Julie Chu helped him out, explaining to reporters that the vegetables show the importance of healthy eating for top athletes. It was all part of the first lady's nutrition initiative.
"As Olympic and Paralympic athletes you also know that a big part of reaching your full potential is making sure that you're putting the right fuel in your body," Mrs. Obama said. The president, meanwhile, admired the prowess of the athletes, taking special note of an intricate Olympic snowboard trick.
"Back to back, double cork 1260 — I don't know what that means, really," Obama said. "I'm pretty sure I'm the first president to ever say that."