BY DANELLE UMSTEAD
We had a week off between World Championships and going to Sochi, Russia for the World Cup Finals. Our goal for this trip was to do recon of the hill and prepare ourselves for 2014 Paralympic Games. Easier said than done. Going out the starting gate in a downhill race, I am committed. In a downhill race reaching speeds up to
65 mph there is no way to give half the effort. You have to commit. Downhill skiing is our favorite discipline. It is packed with fast speeds, extreme adventure, intense fear, pure trust, excitement and fun we (Rob and I) have on the course. I love downhill ski racing!
Due to very warm weather and very soft conditions the first day of training was cancelled. As a result, we had a downhill training run followed by a race the same day.
The Training Run was a great first run. I had a lot of nerves, doubts and excitement about doing my first “real” jump in a race course. Rob went over the course with me after inspection to give me confidence. Rob always knows what to say and do to encourage me to go for it. Kevin Jardine (our high performance director and head coach) said something to me that made me believe in myself because he did and it was time to go.
Downhill race 1:
The sun was out and the snow was getting soft. We were unaware the conditions were challenging. We push through the start again committing to the run (still very nervous and scared). Once I am through the start I let go of fear and focus on the moment. The top was a little soft and grabby but we seemed to have control. I went into the jump and the timing was perfect. It was a nice flight for only my second time in the air. The landing went smooth and then it felt like I could not get control of my skis. The skis were grabby with the soft surface. Down I went. The next thing I knew I was in the red room (the protective netting), wondering what just happened.
The video showed I went into a rut with too much weight on my inside ski. The ski came off and shot at least 20 feet into the air and ended up bent. I tried to save myself and my hip and knee went into a bad position, then I did a flip and landed on my face, and then slid fast into the nets. It was a while before I moved. I heard the course workers saying in a distance “medic, medic,” then another said “Do you need an ambulance?” They all sounded far away and I was thinking to myself, ‘am I ok? Am I bleeding? Is my body distorted? Why are they screaming medic and ambulance?’
Then Rob got there (since he is in front he had to hike back up to me) and said to them “She is fine, she will be ok.” I heard his voice and knew I would be ok and started to move. My face hurt, my chest hurt when I breathed and my leg/hip was hurting. We made our way down without any assistance. When we got to the bottom our team doctor was there too. We put snow on my face (which was swollen and cut), he stretched me and wrapped my ribs to give me relief when I breathed.
That night our athletic trainer stretched me, wrapped me and encouraged me to spend some time in the whirlpool. Our ski technician Mark Kelly (Skiddy) prepared a new pair skis for the next day, since mine were done. Skiddy always tunes our skis to perfection and always gives me a meaningful high five. He really is an awesome tech and good person.
Downhill race 2:
The next day I woke up sore and not knowing if I could pull off a race after the crash. My knee was hurting really bad. Doc wrapped it up at breakfast and Rob and I agreed to go inspect and decide from there. The way things felt it was unlikely we would race, but at least we could still do more recon.
We inspected the course and my knee was hurting so bad. Rob and I went down to talk to our athletic trainer (Sara) and she said she could wrap my knee and it will feel supported. Her confidence and reassurance was so helpful.
We went back to the top of the race course and it was about 20 minutes until the start. I had not skied yet on the new skis and with my body feeling like a truck had hit me. We knew I had to ski before racing. Rob did not push me; he was understanding and very supportive. He told Kevin we were going to have to make a free run and that we may be back. If we missed the start then we missed the start, but we had to see if I could ski. Kevin understood and said no problem. We skied down and I felt stronger than I thought I would. We got on the gondola and started stripping down to our speed suits. As the lift passed over the start we were four racers from our start. We jumped out of the lift and skied down to the start area and just made it with two minutes to spare.
Kevin, as always, helped calm my nerves. Rob and I had a plan in case I could not make it through the entire run. We went into the gate and I knew once I went through the start, “I am committed to the run.” We had a solid run, a little slower on the top. I almost crashed the jump but pushed through and went full-throttle from there to the finish and when we got to the bottom. Rob said “we are winning.” I was in major pain and did not grasp what he said. WE WON OUR FIRST WORLD CUP DOWNHILL RACE! We won on the same course we will be racing at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. When it came time for the medal ceremony Erik Petersen, our coach and mentor; who has helped us from the very beginning of our career was the one who put our medals around our neck. Then hearing our country’s National Anthem at the awards ceremony was incredible. Tears of joy and accomplishment rolled down my face.
Don’t ever give up. I am living proof anything is possible. I am a wife, a mother, a visually impaired (with an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa) ski racer on the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing Team and I live with multiple sclerosis.
Still today I am in shock. We did it! We accomplished this together, against all odds and we did it as a team. Team Vision4Gold. I love my husband, guide and best friend Rob. I could not be where I am without him every step of the way.
We could not have done it together without the support of all our sponsors, donors, coaching staff/medical team/ski technicians, teammates, friends and most of all family. Thanks for your continued support.
Congratulations to our teammates for their success in Sochi too.
Downhill race 1 - Tyler Walker = Gold
Downhill race day 2 - Chris Devlin-Young = Gold; Allison Jones (standing) = Bronze; Alana Nichols (sitting class) = Bronze
GO TEAM USA!